The recurring debate about how to fund quality journalism and newspapers caught my eye this week with three posts in Swedish by Expressen Digital Media's Editor-in Chief Thomas Mattsson, HD.se's publisher Sören Karlsson and Mindpark's Joakim Jardenberg.
It is interesting that the example used was Spotify invites, as Spotify is a pretty good contrasting example to online newspapers when it comes to getting people to pay for a service.
The big problem for online newspapers that want to charge their readers is that they are producing something that, to a large extent, is an undifferentiated commodity. While news is popular, it is hardly ever unique. Most of the content, for the lack a better word, found at Aftonbladet, Expressen, DN and SvD can be found at its main competitor in very similar form. No individual Swedish newspaper does create a product that is great enough to motivate a larger number of people why they should pay for it when there are advertising-funded alternatives. (It doesn't mean that it is impossible to create a product that you can charge for, as Wall Street Journal Online proves.)
Spotify is quite a contrast. It is a great, in the true sense of the word, service offering something that no other music service in Sweden offers today. I.e. it is not a commodity but something special. If you want consumers to pay you, that is what you should be looking for.
As a good online newspaper gets lots of visitors (even if they usually lack commercial intent and as a group are heterogeneous and thus far less valuable than a visitor to a search engine or niche site), the possibility to launch mass-market add-on services (which has been done in classifieds, dieting, dating and other sectors) to add sales is at least as great as when selling DVDs with the physical paper.
By the way, I don't get why Expressen.se didn't try and charge for the Spotify invites.