Why Would You Pay Newscorp?
The move to start charging for access to News Corporation ‘s newspaper websites has generated much heat and probably very little light amongst commentators and aficionados who see this as the “evil empire” subverting the ethos of the “free web” , free access to information and the general all round edification of mankind. It’s not the first time Murdoch has taken the Internet to task of course, having previously accused Google of poaching content it doesn’t own and urging media outlets to fight back.
“Google Devalues Everything it Touches”
Newspapers have watched new distribution channels change the economics of their business. Murdoch maintains that Google (which doesn’t produce any journalism of its own) have made themselves a fortune by simply organising the work of others and selling advertising against it while the originating authors suffer. Wall Street Journal managing editor Robert Thomson has said that: “Google devalues everything it touches. It divides content quantitatively rather than qualitatively.” Google of course see it differently, maintaining that all they do is show just enough information to make the user want to read a full story with the headline, a line of text and links to send more than 300 million clicks a month to newspaper web sites.
Good Journalism Costs Good Money
It’s clear that hard news (even if it is from Fox) is a valuable and precious commodity. Good journalism (whether for a national daily or a monthly trade mag) costs money. Whatever you think of him, Murdoch is a smart cookie and has long regarded free-to-access news websites as a “malfunctioning” business model. The booming online subscription revenues at the Wall Street Journal have convinced him that it is possible to charge for content on the web. I think he is absolutely right and not just because Murdoch needs to generate revenue to compensate for the declining earnings (led by newspapers) across News Corporation.
TANSTAAFL – There Ain’t No Such Thing as a Free Lunch!
Obviously, people will be more inclined to subscribe or pay for news content from trusted, prestigious, sources. None come more highly regarded or respected than the BBC, and ultimately they may well be the only “free” news provider left online (although in the words of Robert A Heinlein “TANSTAAFL”– see licence fee). Quality broadsheets and periodicals like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Times, Guardian, and Economist could all comfortably and very credibly charge for access to online content. For example, can anyone seriously doubt that people would have been queuing up to pay to get more detail on the Telegraph‘s scoop about MP’s expenses – a great story from a trusted, well regarded source.
What is Quality?
Would you pay for sites that aren’t “quality”? In other words, although this approach might work for broadsheets, would it work for tabloids like the Sun and News of the World? Would you pay to see topless Page 3 girls or “exclusive” interviews with non-entity celebs? Again the answer is probably yes. Many people would do just that because after all, it depends on how you define “quality”. The tabloids like the Sun, in my opinion, are in fact very high quality because they are well written, well crafted, deliberately entertaining and they know exactly who they are talking to and what they want.
News is a Precious Commodity
So yes, charging for news is going to happen and yes it’s going to work. Partly because it’s Murdoch behind it and partly because it all makes sense and may well be the only route to survival open to hard pressed newspapers. After all, we’re willing to pay a cover charge for a paper right now. That cover charge has always been ludicrously low in the UK (thanks to the Northcliffe philosophy) compared with the cover charge for equivalent quality European or US broadsheets. So if you physically fork out for your news via print (and in reality you’re paying for it through the TV and radio via the licence fee too) and seem happy to pay for various apps or Premier League Football on Sky, then why wouldn’t you pay for such a precious commodity as news?