Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corporation recently declared “the days of free news online to be over.”
NEWSFLASH for Mr Murdoch: the news press no longer control their destiny. The audience is now in charge.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about newspaper publishers investigating new business models. Most of the talk has been the result of declining revenue for news press as classified advertising has migrated online.
Contrary to popular blogger opinion, newspapers aren’t dying because people don’t read newspapers anymore, or because we all get our news from the Internet. While there has been a small decline in subscriptions and sales of the printed newspaper, this isn’t the killer. Its the evaporation of the “rivers of gold” that classifieds represented which has hit the industry hardest.
Subsequently, declining revenues have resulted in cost-cutting that is now affecting quality journalism. And that’s a major concern.
Meanwhile the industry has been publishing large chunks of their content online for free for years in order to compete and keep their brands alive.
Now publishers, such as Rupert Murdoch, are suggesting that they will be charging for online access of their product, or parts of their product.
This sounds very much like a traditional media titan still trying to impose old rules upon a new digital economy, and maybe still not grasping the reality that the news press no longer control their own destiny.
Google is now the world’s most powerful media company with their search engine and YouTube providing instant access to any information, news or content available. Interestingly the American Press Institute regards Google as both a friend and enemy, a frenemy.
Google is acknowledged as delivering bountiful traffic and advertising income to news sites, whilst being blamed for “stealing” the news in the first place.
Marissa Mayer, vice-president of search product and user experience at Google, says that traffic referral of more than 1 billion clicks a month to newspaper websites and a payout to publishers last year of more than $US5 billion for hosting Google advertising is proof that Google is indeed more friend than enemy.
Whichever side of that fence you sit on, the reality is that there is no going back.
Murdoch may plan to start charging for content via various digital platforms, and may be able to coerce some of his traditional media competitors to do likewise, but is unlikely that all news providers will agree to follow this model.
“The approach, ‘Let’s just take whatever appeared in the print paper and put it on a web page’ doesn’t work,” says Mayer.
In a recent interview with Stephen Hutcheon, Mayer implied that the mainstream media does not understand online and that newspapers are partly to blame for their own predicament.
Now with the rise of micro-media when readers are consuming news in Twitter-sized bites, immediately and from unlimited sources, its hard to imagine that traditional news models will be the dominant force in the future.
New online-only models will be much better suited to future news consumption as they are built on the premise of free access, are easy to share and have lower overheads. By putting publications behind a pay-wall it could be argued that Murdoch will actually be helping the likes of the Huffington Post who will be happy for you to read their content for free.
And how does Mr Murdoch propose to prevent the sharing of content anyway? Hyperlinks are the dominant currency of the Internet. The restrictions required to prevent the linking and sharing of content would be so onerous that surely the backlash would be massive.
Marissa Mayer says linking to more information, engaging readers in dialogue and making the content more interactive are part of the “web fundamentals” that could be used to “end up with a product that will look different than news online does today”.
This is not to say that the news press cannot continue to exist, provide quality journalism and even prosper, just that it is quite likely that they won’t be responsible for creating the model that saves them.
Look at the music industry.
The digitisation of music changed the industry within less than a decade. The power was with the consumer who could suddenly download music for free rather than be forced to purchase overpriced CD’s with songs they didn’t want. It was a disaster for record companies.
Then along came iTunes and similar online models that enabled consumers to purchase the official product quickly and easily for a fair price. It revolutionised the industry and empowered the artists simultaneously.
I’d wager that it’ll be a new player who creates the model that provides us with the news we want online and the revenue the publishers and journalists require to survive. News Corporation and others will dabble with various models, but they no longer control their destiny.