Murdoch: Free News Era Over
Rupert Murdoch thinks he’s figured out how to fix the ailing newspaper industry: Starting charging for online content!
Encouraged by booming online subscription revenues at the Wall Street Journal, the billionaire media mogul last night said that papers were going through an “epochal” debate over whether to charge. “That it is possible to charge for content on the web is obvious from the Wall Street Journal’s experience,” he said.
Asked whether he envisaged fees at his British papers such as the Times, the Sunday Times, the Sun and the News of the World, he replied: “We’re absolutely looking at that.” Taking questions on a conference call with reporters and analysts, he said that moves could begin “within the next 12 months,” adding: “The current days of the internet will soon be over.”
Good luck with that. Pretty much everyone who has tried to charge for online news has failed. WSJ has been something of an exception but only because they’re selling specialized content to a niche audience with a strong incentive to pay for information. Even WSJ hasn’t tried to charge for its editorials, for example.
Chris Bertram passes along news of a recent survey showing that “Some 80 per cent of news stories in the quality UK national newspapers are at least partly made up of recycled newswire or PR copy.” Not only does that call into question whether they’re worth paying for but, more importantly, it demonstrates that most of the information is ubiquitous. Unless all the news producers band together into a cartel, shuttering it off from the non-paying public, any per-per-view scheme is doomed to fail.
Let’s assume a cartel is established and passes regulatory muster. Aside from the various illegal password sharing sites that would immediately spring up, people would immediately begin reposting the most valuable material to non-pay sites under Fair Use rules. Even if copyright law were re-written making that harder and even if enforcement were superb, the most that could happen would be to protect the original phrasing of the source news site; the information contained thereon would still be widely disseminated.
With slightly more effort, I could have rewritten the introductory portion of this post in the way the major papers re-write wire copy and the work of other newspapers. That is, I’d have summarized the story, pulled all of the pertinent Murdoch quotes, and added in some sort of attribution statement (“according to a Guardian report” or some even less generous acknowledgment). Ironically, that would be worse for the industry than that status quo, which at least provides a direct link to their content that some number of readers will click, producing pageviews for their ads.