Another pipe dream post

by Jason Preston on March 9, 2009

David Carr’s business column in today’s New York Times is, although he admits it straight out, an impossible wish-list of newspaper-saving ideas, like “let’s collude and charge for content.”

Of course, Carr knows there are a million problems with that idea, not the least of which is that industry-wide collusion would be both practically impossible to arrange and illegal. Next up: stop giving aggregators like Google a free ride. Nice concept, but you gain more from being in Google news than you lose by letting them surface your content.

Yes, it’d be great if these were the grand old days and you could charge people who want to syndicate your content, even a headline or two, but the fundamental structure of the internet has changed that. Yes these companies are getting a free ride. No, there’s nothing you can do about that.

Again, I think Carr knows this. So why the column?

I think the answer is here:

What is under attack is the fundamental machinery of the Fourth Estate, not just the local newspapers that some love to hate and others, including many young consumers, are indifferent to.

Of course that’s incorrect, to. What’s under attack is the fundamental machinery of newspaper companies. Journalism itself, and the fourth estate, will thrive. It’s already popping up in all kinds of places, and no, it’s not going to be the same. But it’s still going to be the fourth estate.

{ 2 comments }

1 Steve Roth 03.09.09 at 3:51 pm

Jason, I hope you noticed that in the first paragraph Carr was describing you…

Repeating what I’ve said here before, here’s my comment from the Times site:

I’ve been saying forever that groups of papers should adopt the porn model: a single subscription gets you access to multiple sources. Gimme NYT, WP, and WSJ for one reasonable price (with no access otherwise unless I’m a print subscriber, and then only to the one I subscribe to?), I’ll definitely pay up. [I’d pay maybe $15/month for that? $180 a year?]

Would this reasonably be viewed as a business agreement, as opposed to price fixing?

2. Start charging bloggers et al to quote from *or link to* your content. You get, say, 50 links a year for free, then you pay…

Bloggers are utterly dependent on real news sources. Why shouldn’t they pay for what they use? The NYTimes might just able to pull this off…

2 Jason Preston 03.10.09 at 10:29 am

I do love myself a good dark room filled with cigar smoke 😉

1. Yep, that could well happen, but I think that no matter what, news operations are going to have to get used to smaller revenues than they’ve historically enjoyed. So while that would certainly generate some revenue, it would sacrifice the benefits of the metered content model without really gaining anything new. No reason you couldn’t package that option, either.

Also, for the record, I’m subscribed to the Seattle Times (in print) and Monica is subscribed to the New York Times (in print), and I’ll miss both of them when, and if, they do eventually croak.

Of course, I have a post in the hopper about operating profits that’s nice a fun. But that’s for later.

2) Most blogs yes, are utterly dependent on “real” news sources for their material, but it’s only cannibalistic if they’re running a business off semi-stolen content, like the Huffington Post. In the vast majority of cases (I’d say 90%, shooting from the hip), it’s just a different forum for the water-cooler conversations that were happening 20 years ago.

In that sense, it’s actually a boon for the newspaper when a blogger like myself calls attention to their content. Eat Sleep Publish is probably a little bit on the line, but I don’t feel particularly evil because I don’t lift much of any given article, and I’m not ad-revenue driven.

Also, charging someone to link to your content is utterly retarded, and complete internet suicide. It’s probably the single best way to make sure you become irrelevant, widely hated, and completely out of business inside three months.

You will disappear from Google, Yahoo!, Live Search, most remaining subscribers will angrily unsubscribe, and pretty soon advertisers would realize they’re paying to create a negative brand association…we’ll see how long that would last.

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