Make the User Great Again

Cosmin Ene
4 min readApr 17, 2023

In his 2009 Time article, entitled “How to Save Your Newspaper,” Walter Isaacson famously wrote:

In 2009, most content was available on the internet for free, paid for by increasingly intrusive advertising. Publishers were only just starting to explore alternative monetization models and had begun to fix on the subscription (and, by association, the “buy-all-or-get-nothing” paywall) as the model of choice.

Suddenly “everything” started to be locked behind subscription paywalls and, within a few years, it felt like the Internet had moved from “everyone is included” to “everyone is excluded.” This may have been a swing too far in the opposite direction — and while it was wrong to try and make everything free online, it was equally wrong to overreact and padlock “everything worth reading” away instead.

I’ve argued for some time that there is an inherent disconnect between what publishers want and what users want. Publishers have been set on getting people to subscribe in order to generate steady revenue — particularly as the ad industry continues to decline in popularity. Consumers, on the other hand, just want to enjoy as much content as they can, preferably on their own terms (which for 98% decidedly does NOT include subscribing — and who honestly really likes ads?).

Link to specific timestamp: Elon Musk Unfiltered — Interview Part 3

2009, letting people consume just the content they want, in the way they want — didn’t catch on for various reasons, some of which I’ve previously covered. It wasn’t that the idea was a bad one — the overall problem was that the time wasn’t quite right. But now it is. There is an app economy, a creator economy, a contributions economy — and there is a huge space that lives between ads and subscriptions, ready to be monetized. And this time we have the chance to put the user and their preferences over how to consume digital content at the center.

The internet needs a user-centric model that allows users to choose how they will consume content and — equally important — how they will pay for it. With their data, time, or money.

Choice allows people to consume content the way they want to. Want to buy just that one article that interests you? You can. Prefer to watch an ad in order to unlock content instead of paying? Go ahead. Want to access content for a day or a week for a small fee? No problem.

Until the publishing industry was ready to accept — or at least acknowledge — this, Isaacson’s vision for the Web could not come true. But now it is starting to look like the lesson is being learned. Not only did he re-tweet his original article late last year, but he’s also no longer the only person now supporting a choice-based publishing model — and the voices are growing louder.

Link to specific timestamp: Pivot podcast by Kara Swisher and Scott Galloway

This is a model and solution I’ve been promoting for years, but hearing about choice-based models and paying with smallest amounts from luminaries like Isaacson, Musk, and Galloway in numerous conversations with Kara Swisher — all of whom have a massive public audience and are well respected in their sphere — tell me we are onto something big and transformational for the user, the industry and the Web.

It seems that now, at last, the industry is ready to give users choice. To respect their privacy and respect whatever way they choose to consume content online. And the most obvious way to do that is to explore alternative revenue models to ads and subscriptions.

Why is this the answer? Read about it in the next article. See you there!



Cosmin Ene

Founder/CEO Supertab. All about giving users choice and making it easy for them to buy content.