A Columnist's Modest Proposal To Save The Newspaper Industry

from the make-'em-pay dept

As newspapers struggle to adapt to the internet, they're received plenty of bad advice on what they should do. But it all pales in comparison to the suggestions from the San Francisco Chronicle's David Lazarus, who uses his latest column to offer his prescription for what's ailing his industry. In his view, the answer is to start charging for all web content. The consumers are getting a free lunch, in his view, because they get to read the paper online for free. Of course, he recognizes that there are some problems with his plan. He knows that if one newspaper were to start charging, then readers would just go over to another paper that didn't charge, or as he puts it, the free newspapers would enjoy "an influx of penny-pinching readers at the expense of rival publications." So, he insists that this move must be made by every newspaper in the country simultaneously. Barring that, he thinks papers should at least adopt the TimesSelect model, even though it has basically been a flop. This is obviously an impossible dream and even if it happened, there would still be plenty of places to read the news for free online. Because he knows how unlikely this is, Lazarus has a backup plan. He wants the industry to follow Viacom's lead, and start going after companies that "profit" from newspaper content without paying up. So, for example, sites like the Drudge Report that mainly just link to newspapers should be forced to pay for that right. Of course, this view is reminiscent of the attacks on Google News, which are not only shortsighted but have no basis in the law. Still, we can at least respect his wishes, and as a favor to him, we won't link to his column, since that could be construed as profiting from his work. If you're interested, you can find it yourself, but don't use Google News, because that would defeat the point.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Derek Kerton (profile), Mar 14th, 2007 @ 3:09pm

    Collusion?

    Hmmm. Sounds a lot like a cartel to me. Anti-competitive, anti-trust, and anti-American.

    Is he trying to start the OPEC of the news world?

    Derek.

     

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  2.  
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    jeff, Mar 14th, 2007 @ 3:36pm

    he has a point but it will never happen

    times select is a flop because the ny times has a free version that covers most of the paper. I know it is all the rage to make fun of papers for not "getting it" when it comes to charging, but I personally do not buy the NY times anymore because i can just read it for free on the web. IF (very hypothetical) all major newspapers were like the wall street journal, we would all probably do what we did 10 years ago - go out and buy the paper!
    Most of the left over news on the internet is feeds from AP and blogs.

     

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  3.  
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    jeff, Mar 14th, 2007 @ 3:38pm

    he has a point but it will never happen

    times select is a flop because the ny times has a free version that covers most of the paper. I know it is all the rage to make fun of papers for not "getting it" when it comes to charging, but I personally do not buy the NY times anymore because i can just read it for free on the web. IF (very hypothetical) all major newspapers were like the wall street journal, we would all probably do what we did 10 years ago - go out and buy the paper!
    Most of the left over news on the internet is feeds from AP and blogs.

     

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  4.  
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    Greg, Mar 14th, 2007 @ 3:40pm

    That's such a terrible idea that I really want to think it was put forth as a joke.

     

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  5.  
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    teknosapien, Mar 14th, 2007 @ 4:03pm

    Wait Wait

    How did papers make money before? Wasn't the money made generated by "Advertisers" based on circulation and content? (more circulation more money per add.)

    And isn't content what drives circulation.
    maybe the problem isn't with competition and free access to news maybe its with the "Content" that lacks and thats why sales are down.

     

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  6.  
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    DPH, Mar 14th, 2007 @ 4:28pm

    Limiting access to content is stupid. It is a throwback to the old media concept of being the only game in town. It goes like this: If I can make the audience come to me for all their information needs, then everything will be alright. Newspapers have had their heads in that particular hole for about 40 years now, it's somehow strangely reassuring to see that some newspaper people haven't learned anything despite the passage of time and the loss of so many readers.

    The really funny thing is that newspapers have never made money by what they charge for delivery. Having been in the business for more than 20 years, I know that subscription revenue pays less than one-third the cost to print and distribute a newspaper. The internet offers the opportunity to drastically reduce the production and distribution cost for newspapers.

    What has paid the freight in the past is advertising. In order for advertising to work, there must be eyeballs. Limiting access will limit eyeballs. Therefore, limiting access is not a recipe for success.

    The real issue facing newspapers is that after hundreds of years with audiences that had little choice (you got your town's paper because that was the only one available), newspapers find themselves existing in a world glutted with choices. The way to move forward toward a profitable future is not to fight people's ability to choose. I would suggest that newspapers need to focus more on providing the unique and compelling content that will make readers choose them -- in print or online.

     

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  7.  
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    bobo, Mar 14th, 2007 @ 5:13pm

    Content

    If it interests me and it's free, I will be there, I may even click on an add or two.

    Give me someone thats interesting, thats worth reading. I miss the old newspaper of my youth, well at least PBS still has the Newshour With Jim Lehrer.

     

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  8.  
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    JJ, Mar 14th, 2007 @ 6:00pm

    Interesting but....

    Newspapers make their major money off advertisers - not subscriptions. The idea is ludicrous, and smacks of someone who knows little about the industry they are in.
    What the newspapers need to understand, is that the audience is still out there and viable, and it's the product that changing - not the content. With the advent of the web the physical newspaper - and the associated production co$t$ - became outdated. If the content that you produce is still "award winning" it will drive readership, and if you can track your readership - you can target ads - oh and by the way - give your advertisers better statistical data - which they will pay for. --- Just a thought

     

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  9.  
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    wrs, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 1:00am

    how to fight the competition from the net

    [...] Techdirt mentions the “newspapers struggle to adapt to the internet […] and the plenty of bad advice” they’ve received “on what they should do.” So, despite of David Lazarus’ suggestion to keep the mind in the past, make the legislator strongly support the newspapers’ efforts in gaining profits, what could the newspapers actually do? [...]

     

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  10.  
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    wrs, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 1:03am

    Re:

    [...] Pay or die. Just as the shareware developers opted for — and learned that it doesn’t work. People just notice, there’s a fence, and then they go somewhere where’s no such fence. Lazarus recognizes that condition. Therefore, his article suggests to switch the whole newspapers industry at once, from [...]

     

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  11.  
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    Enrico Suarve, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 5:07am

    Perhaps they should ask the Metro paper for leads?

    At first glance maybe metro.co.uk doesn't seem much different to any other online, sans-paywall 'paper' and it's not really. There's the national and international news, columns, even the compulsory horoscope which is predictably accurate/inaccurate depending on your belief or desperation

    The huge difference is that every day they distribute over 1,000,000 paper copies to their readership FREE

    Yup - bugger me backwards with a stick if I lie - FREE

    So here's a company that don't have to worry about the online readership stealing their paying readers, THEY DON'T HAVE ANY!

    Kind of proves the point re how papers make their money and turns the argument around slightly, are the papers pissed because they lose money via the internet or because they were hoping to make MORE money and the opportunity just hasn't materialised?

    As for the copying of stories I see plenty of broadsheet columnists who use phrases such as "Tom Thingumy in the times writes....", "according to columnists at the journal...." etc etc. Why should blogging or online journalism be treated any differently? Sure it's annoying if someone rips your entire article completely without giving credit and yeah under those circumstances sue away, but for just referring to your article?

    The simple solution is not to censor but to increase the quality of your articles, make people want to come to your site, incentivise your site with special offers etc etc, don't hide it!

     

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  12.  
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    billy, Mar 15th, 2007 @ 5:32am

    The Drudge

    Now that is a joke newspaper if ever there was one.

     

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  13.  
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    Vincent Clement (profile), Mar 15th, 2007 @ 12:48pm

    Old media is dead

    Does Mr. Lazarus go around to each and every coffee shop, fast food restaurant and workplace and confiscate a copy of the Chronicle after it has been read? I just do not get how old media can be so out of touch with reality. Maybe bankruptcy is the answer - the free market's version of a revolution.

     

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  14.  
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    Vincent Clement (profile), Mar 15th, 2007 @ 12:53pm

    Re: Content

    It doesn't even have to be free. If the content is worth the price, then people will buy it. I have a subscription to The Economist. Yes, it is expensive, but I get a newspaper that has few ads and well written stories PLUS I get online access to the magazine.

     

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  15.  
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    Vincent Clement (profile), Mar 15th, 2007 @ 12:56pm

    Rather than compete by increasing the value of their product or simply giving up (yes, that is an option), old media wants to use the legal system (through more laws and through the courts) to enforce a business model that is no longer relevant. Why change, when the legal system can give you a few more years on life support?

     

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