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The Best Things in Life Are Free. Except When They’re not.

By May 2, 2019No Comments

This week, New Zealand’s most circulated Newspaper, the NZ Herald, moved their online offering towards a paid subscription model. To both our overseas blog readers, this is akin to Dylan going electric, except without the cultural significance. Now for those who read the Herald, given the quality of journalism served up historically, what is your first reaction to this?

An opinion poll of one found that the most common response was “Are you joking? Who is going to pay for that sock full of vomit each day”. This blog was going to be about what an arrogant idea this was, which, like the desperate weekly bloggers we are, I’d try to tenuously connect to something happening in the recruitment industry.

But I’m not going to do that.

Instead, after mulling this over and a bottle of wine later, my usually dogmatic opinion has shifted slightly. Whether we like it or not, we are now in the age of “freemium” moving away from “free” and rapidly towards …erm…”mium”. It was in the early 2000s that most of us started experimenting with what would become a full blown digital addiction.  Content was free as we took our first furtive clicks. Digital platforms were like the twenty-two year old drug dealer at the school gates. We nervously took out first puff of AOL, and one day, just behind the tennis courts we were offered our first line of MSN Messenger. Fast forward a few years, and this same dealer was older, skinnier, with lankier hair. We’re laying in a dilapidated bedsit as our dealer injects a hit of YouTube into out semi comatose body. Still, he hasn’t charged us a cent. He knows man, he knows….

And now, we’re in a new era. We’re still in our old bedsit, but we’re woken by a knock at the door. It’s Big Dave and the Horseman of the Apocalypse, and he’s here to collect his past dues for this digital addiction. Bring your wallet or a water-based lubricant as they ain’t leaving until they’re fully sated. We’d love to quit, but how can we? We need to watch a clip of Susan Boyle on YouTube, and we’re prepared to see the lantern-jawed Rachel Hunter persuade us to have shit food delivered by an exploited first generation immigrant for the  privilege. Personally, I think she had more integrity when she was shagging the crumbling Rod Stewart..

two women smoking while leaning on yellow wall

To avoid an advert from Wish, we can of course pay YouTube for their premium, add-free product. With a small donation each week, we can revert to the halcyon days of the interweb, and the Herald’s recent change is an attempt to do the same thing. Without such a dire need to sell ad space, energy can perhaps be diverted to what really matters: quality journalism. Under the previous free model,  in the upper echelons of a media empire, I’d be interested to hear how much talk there was about actual journalism versus revenue. My gut feel, is that like almost all recruitment firms, between snorts of cocaine from an intern’s bumhole, revenue chat trumps any discussion around quality of service. The reality is, if you want quality journalism, a subscription model would be the best model.  Journalist wouldn’t have to be subservient to corporate advertisers, newspapers could employ more journalist and less ad sales folk, and there’d be the time to create proper investigative journalism, not the quick-fix clickbait we’re currently served up.

Likewise, in our own industry, we are far too concerned with maintaining and growing revenue, and it distracts us from providing the very best quality of services to our clients. If us recruiters picked our ten best clients, and received a small “subscription” from them each a month (enough to at least cover our operating costs and remove the need to make so many sales calls), imagine the level of service we could provide? The market insights, the competitor intelligence, market maps, interview coaching…

It’d be incredible. A game changer. Some of us might even be proud to call ourselves a recruitment consultant. We have a few changes happening at Rice Consulting this year, one of which is looking at how we can create a better charging model for our top clients. Would any of our clients commit to a subscription based model in exchange for more value? I’d love to think it’ll fly, but my recruiter cynicism raises doubts.

The problem is, like being the only newspaper asking for subscriptions, unless the whole market rethinks our charging model, it’s a very difficult sell. There’ll always be someone offering the “same” for less. Sadly, its these pant-dropping firms that drag us all down, so we revert to what we know; contingent recruitment with a success-based charging model. And to be frank, it’s a pretty crappy model for clients, candidates, and recruiters alike. The Herald’s challenge is that their product isn’t currently worth a subscription. Reading between  the lines, they argue that with subscription  revenue, the product will improve to match the cost. That’s a very difficult pitch to get across the line.

And there’s a similar challenge in the recruitment industry. Is our current level of service good enough to receive a monthly retainer or subscription?

In most cases, probably not.