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Opinion: Can someone make a Spotify-style app for newspapers?

Newspaper moguls love the iPad, and to a lesser extent, smartphones. They see these mobile devices as a way to get people to pay for their products – something we’ve been unwilling to do on the web thus far. That’s why they’re all releasing iPad and iPhone apps at the moment, to figure out how much we’ll pay, and for what.

Recent weeks have seen The Sun, The Times, the Daily Express, the Evening Standard, Financial Times and Metro launch on the App Store – and this is just UK publications. The Guardian launched its iPhone app a few months ago, of course.

It’s early days though: many of these apps simply shove the print paper onto your mobile device, and they all operate as individual walled gardens. As a news junkie, I want something different. I want a Spotify for news.

Eh? Let me explain. If you subscribe to Spotify’s Premium service, you pay £9.99 a month to listen to anything from its catalogue of streaming music. Spotify divvies up those subscription revenues between the various record labels and publishers, who in turn pay artists and songwriters.

It’s true that there’s an ongoing controversy around how much the latter get per stream, but Spotify’s theory is that the more people it gets paying, the more money there’ll be in the pot to share. So I’m wondering if someone can get this to work for newspapers.

Here’s how: I want one app, which I’d happily pay, say, £10 a month for. But for that, I want a fully customisable news application that pulls in articles from everywhere. Guardian news, Times sport, Daily Express for Diana death conspiracy theories, music reviews from the Observer, celebrity gossip from The Sun… And so on. Blogs and magazines too – this wouldn’t just be a Fleet Street thing.

I’d want to be able to choose these – whole sections or individual journalists – but also have the app learn my preferences and pull in other articles that it thinks I might like. Whenever I read an article, that newspaper gets paid a micro-amount.

But I want more: I want this to be a truly social newspaper, just like Spotify has recently introduced social features. I want to be able to ‘Like’ articles and push that out to Facebook, but I also want it to make proper use of the Facebook Open Graph so I can see what articles my friends have liked – and what comments they’ve been making.

In fact, how about an entire ‘Your Friends Like…’ section of the e-newspaper, which serves up stories that my friends have been reading (and Liking)? Oh, and I’d like a fully interactive sudoku and crossword page, which taps into Apple’s soon-to-launch Game Center community for high scores and ongoing achievements.

It would need to be updated regularly throughout the day, but also have an offline mode so I can download a bunch of content and read it on the tube. Finally, it would have to look purdy: great big photos, proper fonts and layout, and maybe a nifty iBooks-style page-turning effect.

Is this a pipedream? Heaven knows what Rupert Murdoch would think of the idea. And one concern is whether people would pay for this, when so much of the content would be available online, for free. I don’t know if £10 a month is a sustainable price for this kind of pricing model, and it’s anyone’s guess how advertising would fit in.

Still, it’s a thought, eh? Now we just need someone brave (or insane) enough to actually do it.


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