Newspapers Plan to Charge for Content

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Ben Cohen
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By Ben Cohen

Tech Crunch reports on the highly secretive meeting between the top newspapers where they discussed charging for online content:

The report suggests several models to implement paid content, including micropayments,
subscriptions and hybrid models. Google is compared to an atom bomb
that “blew up the content business into millions of atomized pieces,”
leaving news organizations with the mess of putting things back
together. Comparing newspapers to “Humpty Dumpty”, the paper paints a
“poor-me” tale of how news orgs are scrambling to put all the pieces
back together to “restore their integrity.” And of course, news
enterprises are also forced to suffer a second related atom bomb:
hyper-linking. The report says: “The culture of hyper-linking and
hyper-syndication that fuels the interactive Web has become an atom
bomb for the old news business model.” So the remedy for putting the
pieces back together according to the API: charge for content, stick it
to Google, and renegotiate subscription models with Amazon for the
Kindle (which it implies is unfairly making more money from content
than newspapers). Apparently, nobody at the API has actually read
Humpty Dumpty, otherwise they would know that you can never put the
pieces back together again.

I am highly skeptical of any attempts to charge for content, simply because it goes against the ethos of the internet. As a blogger/journalist, I understand the need to make a living from writing, and I'm not opposed in principle to charging for content. I just don't think it can work. The blogosphere has radically transformed the way content is created and digested, and the phenomenon of hyperlinking means people zoom freely around the internet searching for content they find interesting. As soon as some of that content is locked away, people will simply forget about it and find an alternative (and there are plenty of them).

It seems to me that the future of journalism and online content will revolve around advertising catching up to the power of the web, and the aggregation of high quality content. Once advertisers are secure in the knowledge that they have a very high quality, loyal audience, the money will follow, and publishers will get paid. This means those in the blogosphere will have to up their game and prove their worth, while advertisers develop more intelligent ways of engaging viewers.

Walling off the internet is, I believe, a self destructive move that will alienate the industry further, and push readers away. And that's the last thing they need when trying to survive in a world that is increasingly collaborative and user generated.