16 August 2009

Paying for news

Big news in recent weeks has been Rupert Murdoch's conversion to paying for online news. Originally, he believed that online news could be paid for by advertising but, buying the Wall Street Journal and being shown the books was his 'on the road to Damascus' moment and he was suddenly converted to the opposite.

Now RM is a big media baron owning everything from Sky tv to The Sun newspaper - as well as Fox tv, the Times newspaper and dozens of other properties. Probably his aim is to take over the media world in its entirety.

But will he really get people to pay for news? The Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal are specialist business newspapers and subscriptions to their online content is likely to be a business expense rather than a personal expense, but is anyone going to pay for The Sun's content?

There's no denying that newspapers are in real difficulties - hit, on one hand, by the new technology, which makes the worldwide distribution of news so easy, and on the other hand by the recession, which has cut into their advertising revenue. To a degree, newspaper publishers are in the same fix as scholarly publishers - the technology has made them potentially redundant and they are desperate to find out how to 'monetize' their online activities. What business model will replace the existing one is hard for me to tell - not having the gift of foresight, but I imagine that one consequence, and a very undesirable one, will be to concentrate ownership of the news media in even fewer hands, with fewer journalists, little on-the-ground foreign coverage, and more and more regurgitated wire services content.

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