Murdoch: Free News Era Over

Rupert Murdoch thinks he’s figured out how to fix the ailing newspaper industry: Starting charging for online content!

Rupert ­Murdoch expects to start charging for access to News Corporation’s newspaper websites within a year as he strives to fix a ­”malfunctioning” business model.

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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Dave Schuler says:

    The Wall Street Journal is a distinct although possibly not unique case. The WSJ has established itself as a daily business journal on which people can rely for timely business news. It’s been pretty fair at separating its news department from its editorial department. And people have been willing to pay for up-to-the minute business news.

    There may be some other niches in which that’s the case but I don’t believe it’s a viable model for the general news business. I see little evidence of willingness to pay.

    To make a comparison the New York Times has been busily undermining its own reputation as a reliable daily news journal by failing to draw a firm line between its news department and its editorial department and, frankly, I don’t think there’s a market for a daily journal of opinion.

  2. MichaelB says:

    How many of those WSJ subscriptions are individual? I know a lot of people who get it at work, through their employer. I don’t know anyone who personally pays out of pocket for it. I’m skeptical about expanding the paid content market from work to home.

  3. floyd says:

    Will it be good for wrapping phish?(ing)

  4. Bithead says:

    To make a comparison the New York Times has been busily undermining its own reputation as a reliable daily news journal by failing to draw a firm line between its news department and its editorial department and, frankly, I don’t think there’s a market for a daily journal of opinion.

    I’m far from convinced on this last point.
    Then again, I’m biased; I write a daily journal of opinion, and make a fair dollar doing it.

  5. Brett says:

    I’m not entirely convinced on Dave’s point (the NYT still has quite a bit of excellent reporting), but I agree that the WSJ (and possibly the Financial Times, its British counterpart) have a niche in that both provide specialized business news that people are willing to pay a subscription for.

    Even Murdoch makes this distinction with regards to the Wall Street Journal. If you go to the WSJ website, you notice that next to all of the business writing is under the subscription firewall, but everything else (including some very good international news reporting) is available free on-line.

    Maybe that’s the future of on-line newspapers. They offer something that a solid group of customers is willing to pay for, some specialized products. That’s what many newspapers were anyways, back before the 19th century (when the business model started shifting towards reliance on advertising instead of subscriptions).

  6. Tlaloc says:

    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. with more dollars than sense.

    fixed.

  7. Mike P says:

    Yeah, I think people need to be careful when they go on their “The New York Times sucks at life” kind of rants. Does the Times have a left leaning bent? Of course it does, as anyone who reads their op-ed page could attest. And, yes, sometimes the feelings of the editorial board bleed into some of the political coverage, but, that aside, a lot of the rest of the paper is top notch and is fairly free of the bias that people accuse the paper of having in all of its pages.