Journalist Bemoans Fact People Won't Pay For Online Content; Suggests Users Be Forced To Pay For Online Content

from the building-a-walled-garden-with-everyone-on-the-inside dept

Representatives of the “old guard” are at it again. Whenever a previously massive form of media (music, film, newspapers) starts feeling the internet rifling through the till, it begins sending out panicked calls for someone, anyone, to come to its assistance.

Now, these various media giants may not be able to agree on which industry deserves the most propping up, but they can all agree that someone should pay for it. And not just any someone. No, the dusty media leviathans who are routinely being beaten up for their lunch money on the Web 2.0 playground all agree that you should pay for the stuff you’re used to getting for free, although they’ll gladly allow someone else to do the dirty collection work.

caracabe directs us to the latest edition of the journalism’s bold “new” business plan, as presented by John Reinan of the Minnesota Post. In prime journalist fashion, Reinan gives us the bad news first:

America’s newspaper companies just reported their second-quarter results, and the news was bad – again.

Gannett, McClatchy, the New York Times, the Washington Post – all saw print advertising shrink by 6 percent to 10 percent from the same time last year. Iowa-based Lee is on the verge of bankruptcy.

The reason for the decline is clear: A lot of people have decided there’s no reason to pay $20 a month for the newspaper when they can get news for free on the Internet. But is that news really free?

Good question, John. Is the news really free? Most would argue that, yes, news can be freely obtained from pretty much anywhere on the internet at any given time. There are, of course, certain outliers who have instituted various paysieves to keep themselves afloat momentarily (including the Onion’s suprisingly non-ironic “Pay Layer“), but if the numbers are to be believed, walled gardens lined with furniture ads aren’t going to keep these soapboxes afloat much longer. Reinan has a suggestion, however, and he’s dragging Old Man Recording Industry off his deathbed as an example:

The music business has been hit just as hard by the Internet as newspapers have. With digital technology making it easy to share files, it seems like only suckers actually pay for music these days.

But the music business does have one thing going for it that newspapers don’t: a royalty system. For decades, composers and performers have gotten a tiny payment every time one of their songs is played on a jukebox or the radio, or is used in a movie or TV show.

Wow. Music sure does have it good. No wonder that industry is peacefully tending to its own garden and leaving the market to sort out the rest. I guess Old Man Recording Industry is healthier than he looks. Sure, the internet’s been beating on him some, but most of the bruising seems to be fading nicely.

That’s all well and good for the comparatively healthy recording industry, but any tenuous linking would surely bring us into the domain of the landmark Apples v. Oranges decision, which has clearly warned against metaphoric stretching and specious conclusions in self-interested editorializing. What say you, Reinan?

It seems to me that the work of journalists is just as much an intellectual property as the work of songwriters. Why shouldn’t they – or their news organization – get royalties when that work is publicly disseminated via the Internet?

Ah. Clever. Surely these artistes behind the reporting of facts that occurred without their assistance are entitled to a cut of the millions of dollars generated by their services. But how?

It would be impossible to police the millions of websites that populate the Internet. But it would be much easier to collect payments from the relative handful of Internet and mobile service providers.

Excellent! We don’t need to know what would be the “right thing to do.” All we really need to keep journalism afloat is whatever’s the “easiest thing to do.” Let’s just take it out of those greedy billionaire ISPs. After all, without all this content, they’d cease to exist and probably have to go do some real work. Like ironworking. Or switchboard operating.

It’s only fair that the greatest beneficiaries of the internet be obligated to pay for everything on the internet. And they’ll certainly be busy, these rogue ISPs. The recording industry and the motion picture industry have both expressed a deep interest into turning ISPs into their own personal rent-a-cops. The real cops, along with the FBI, CIA, NSA, DHS and a million other overreaching acronyms would like the ISPs to compile the world’s biggest virtual file cabinet, just in case some future criminal activity can be reverse engineered from John Q. Public’s internet history.

But here’s the best part. It won’t cost the ISPs a cent to do this.

Sure, they’d probably pass it along to the consumer, and the result would be that you’d pay an extra buck or two a month on your phone or cable bill.

That’s fantastic, Reinan! Of course this will work! Why, with that sort of cavalier attitude towards the end user, you journalism boys will be sitting at the grownup table with Mr. Movies and Mr. Music in no time!

Seems like a pretty small price to help keep that “free” news coming.

Oh, absolutely! Couldn’t agree more. “Free” isn’t helping anyone. A flat fee that assumes everyone is interested in your particular brand of news could help everybody! And who would head this up? Some sort of royalty group? Even better, because as everyone knows, royalty groups are famous for their transparent accounting and quick payouts. But even better than “better” is the fact that someone is going to need to enforce this. You’re going to have to get the government involved or you’re going to find the ISPs opting out faster than potential pallbearers at a Murdoch family funeral.

So, let’s wrap this all up and see how this potential business plan works out.

1. Users don’t want to pay for online newspapers.
2. Turn the ISPs into toll booths.
3. Users now pay for online newspapers whether they’re reading them or not.
4. Profit!!!

Is that about right? If the users don’t want to pay for something, we can just lift the money from their wallets via a third party? If that’s what passes for a business plan, it’s no wonder you’re struggling. I think when people recommend that you build your online community in order to maximize your financial opportunities, I think they’re referring to something more meaningful than gently caressing their back pocket area.

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Comments on “Journalist Bemoans Fact People Won't Pay For Online Content; Suggests Users Be Forced To Pay For Online Content”

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crade (profile) says:

This is an excellent idea. And it scales to. For instance, users are reading *my* comments without paying for them. And just think, you would probably have to add less than a penny to the end users ISP bills in order to see that I was properly compensated for my comment writing. Who knew the problem of people not wanting to pay for my comments could be solved so easily!

Loki says:

Re: Re: Re:

Techdirt should certainly qualify, then. After all, if I’m going to have to pay for something I have little or no interest in (Fox News, NY Times, Sports Illustrated, whatever) to protect the “rights” of those who do, those people would have no issues whatsoever paying to protect the media sources I find important, right? People need to get paid for the important work they do, dammit (and those darn “freetards” can always just donate their shares to some charity of something).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

And getting money from it is simple, all you need to do is want things for free.

Not like the filthy pirates who also want things for free, they are terrorists.

But if you’re a business, and you want things for free, just have the nearest middle-man within shouting distance know that you want stuff for free, and they’ll be sure to get it from the pockets of their customers.

Totally not like piracy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

No it ain’t. let us say you live in L.A., California, but since the internet is global, you end up paying for all news media outlet’s news, one of which is in, say China, if you don’t speak Chinese, are you going to even access the website in question, and PRETEND to read any of their articles written in Chinese? No you aren’t! That’s like tolling you for a bridge that’s in China, yet you don’t even live in China, you aren’t even licensed to drive there. I wonder, would you be willing to pay a toll, for a bridge, you never saw, you, who don’t even have a picture of this bridge? Or let’s say, there’s a random blogger in some other country, suddenly demanding, that you pay for something you didn’t even know existed. Now by this hypothetical law, you either pay, or you go to jail, for which, even if you are innocent, you end up having to pay, for some unknown’s blog, you never heard of before

WysiWyg (profile) says:

The idea is deceptively logical at the surface. I’m pretty sure they could even get around the principle of forcing people to pay.

The real problem comes with the question “who gets the money?”. Then people, organizations and companies will line up and ask for their cut. And soon that few bucks a month will dwarf your house-mortgage.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

One problem that none of the proponents of this type of plan want to address (at least in public) is the question of who gets a cut of content tax. Generally the people who get a cut are the ones who were around the table when the plan was devised. New companies are going to find it terribly difficult to break into the club. If someone finds a new business model they will be competing against businesses that have guaranteed tax subsidies. So even if the new business is more efficient and better, the old moribund institutions can sit back and collect their pensions at the expense of the efficient ones.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Make It News... Not Entertainment

No, I have no sources (I did not really look so there could be). However, there are obviously less conflicts of interest, which is what this theory is based on (in my mind). I also qualified it with “better chance” making it not an absolute, but I guess it could still be BS.

taoareyou (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Make It News... Not Entertainment

It’s more logically sound than what the journalist suggested. Might as well just have everyone on the Internet send everyone else on the Internet a penny each month. 😛 Since if one group can get paid for content by people who didn’t view their content, then millions of others will certainly jump at that! haha

Donnicton says:

Wait, if this plan really is centered around billing users through the ISP for the privilege of reading the site whether or not they’re using it, then what’s to stop the flood from jumping onto that bandwagon?

How would you split “an extra buck or two a month” several thousand ways between every tom dick and harry that claims that they’re a news service?

Or, on the opposite pole, it’s on an individual basis, what’s to stop thousands of scam artists from padding up the broadband bill exponentially under the claim that they’re a real news service?

Under what criteria would they be judged to be a qualifying news service, if any? Would there even be an opt-out option?

What would stop people from milking this without a user’s knowledge in exchange for the provider getting a cut of what’s billed, like one of those “opt-out” cell phone scams?

Rikuo (profile) says:

My ISP has a legal free music download service, which I can access. It’s part of my bill, but I have yet to use it, nor will I ever use it. Part of my bill money goes to the music labels who are part of the deal – I have to pay them money despite the fact I don’t want to do any kind of business with them.
So yes, let’s charge customers of one business to save a completely unrelated business even if they’re not being used. Should our road tax be increased to compensate shop owners, who suffer losses through robbery?

E. Zachary Knight (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Should our road tax be increased to compensate shop owners, who suffer losses through robbery?

Your analogy is a bit off here. That should read as follows:

Should our road tax be increased to compensate shop owners, who suffer losses due to uncompetitive business models?

These content companies are not losing money to theft. They are losing money to companies and service providers who offer a better product at a better price. There is no reason why they should be compensated for their ignorance.

:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

Been Solved!

All they need to do is make a Flattr account & monthly amount mandatory. Then, when these journalists produce stuff that people enjoy reading they can shake their ‘Flattr jar’ in front of their readers. Since everybody online has to put some $$$ in their required Flattr account, they might Flattr the journalists–if they’re worth it.

Honestly, can’t they just get with the times?

Anonymous Coward says:

Sorry - what?!?!?

Gannett, McClatchy, the New York Times, the Washington Post – all saw print advertising shrink by 6 percent to 10 percent […] The reason for the decline is clear: A lot of people have decided there’s no reason to pay $20 a month for the newspaper

Note that he explicitly says advertising revenue is down, but doesn’t mention subscription revenue… so the reason that advertising revenues are down is because subscribers are not paying?

Isn’t the logial conclusion then to make the dead tree edition free? Won’t that bring people back and drive up the advertising revenue again? No? Then obviously the problem isn’t that your subscribers expect it for free, it’s that your news isn’t compelling.

out_of_the_blue says:

"The idea is deceptively logical at the surface."

I agree, and also that WHO distributes the money is a BIG problem. I’ll get to those. — Skip if you like.

However, you people haven’t pur forth any alternative method. Right now all are sponging off the established media plus a few bloggers and other independents. You keep claiming that the news industry, among others, needs a “new business model”, but you’re obviously not willing to sign on to /this/ one, nor again, have you ANY alternative to the dinosaur method.

But the BBC has worked from general tax revenues. I don’t agree with its “EngSoc” slant or putting out gov’t (monarchist) propaganda, but on other hand, it did produce Monty Python.

So here’s my refinement: start with everyone pays a SMALL amount added to other bills. Who’d object to that IF were fair and above board? — Tens of millions a month IS enough to finance journalists. — Pay outs go to /individuals only/ and are determined simply by /per piece/ submissions, much as “stringers” do right now.

Be on the honor system in general, BUT provide a mechanism to review all submissions for authenticity, non-duplication, and various other schemes to skim more from the fund, with criminal penalties possible. That’s basically the same as present prohibitions on fraud, doesn’t require a new bureacracy as readers would police it: there’d just be a new point to complain offficially.

Any Mouse (profile) says:

Re: "The idea is deceptively logical at the surface."

‘You people’? Seriously? Since when is it my responsibility to come up with business plans for someone else? if they can’t do it, or pay someone to do it, then they should just die in peace, and leave the rest of us be. Techdirt is just about the only source of ‘news’ I bother with. Any time I want other news, I’ll access a news site. Now tell me why I should pay for the privilege of seeing facts buried under tons of ads?

Don’t go adding crap to my bills, which I already can barely afford, for things I will not use. Period.

Lord Binky says:

About my piece of that free money pie......

So how do I collect on this money that’s there for journalist er.. artists.. i mean… jourtists? to keep them freely spouting their drivel? What? Oh… uh.. news?*waits for a nod* Yes news is what I said. So, is this based on amount of uh.. News I create, create right? because I’m applying my art of bullshittery to it. Ok, so I just want to get my due from this plan, and I just want to know how if it’s based on quantity or quality. I don’t care whatever metric is used, I just want to get the most from this since I will be a infamous Jourtist!

jakerome (profile) says:

Fantastic idea!

Really, this idea is such a great & profound game changer that it needs to be expanded, not mocked! Why just focus on newspapers ($2), movie studios ($5) and record labels ($5) each collecting a $2-5/month tax on every ISP? Surely many others make valuable IP contributions to teh intarwebs that are then leeched upon by the great unwashed masses.

Let’s start with photographers, many of whom have been unwilling to adapt their business models to account for changing technology and are no longer to earn a living the exact same way they used to do so. I think $2/month is a bargain for all the great photography.

And game developers, as many of these games are available free on the internet through the web or smartphone apps. Whereas once they could only sell games for $50 a pop, now they’re forced to compete against small developers selling games for $1-2. In light of the dramatic reduction in prices, $2/month is about right.

Oh, and authors! Lots of books are on the web, for free! Of, for the want of royalties paid to Shakespeare’s great-great-great grandchildren, there is free competition. And sometimes authors offer their own books for free! But are they really free? NO! Surely no one would begrudge an extra $3/month to make sure the next Twain doesn’t starve?

And we must account for the poets whose poems can now be enjoyed without buying a $200 anthology. That’s $1/month. Painters & sculptors, no one pays to view photos of their artworks on the web, let’s tack on another $1. Lest we forget the broadcasters, who can’t cram in as many ads on free webcasts as on free broadcasts– $3/month should soothe their pain. And of course, the ad writers, that much maligned profession, don’t have as many print publications to target. I think they’ll settle for $1/month.

Lastly, I’m surely leaving out other great contributors, we’ll put them in the catch all, cap that at $5/month. Sure, it’s not much, but much more and folks might start to notice.

An extra $30/month seems like a pretty small price to help keep that “free” content coming.

Dave says:

Someone has to pay

The fact that this is not the best idea does not remove the fact that someone needs to pay for it. If the people that report the news do not feel like they can get paid for then they will stop doing it and eventually all that will be available for free will poorly reported, less than useful, copies of what we currently have. Or worse yet, deliberate advertising and agendas disguised as news. Granted, there is a lot of that going on now but not as much as you’ll see in the future if no one is paying for it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Someone has to pay

The fact that this is not the best idea does not remove the fact that someone needs to pay for it.

Yes, so let’s force customers with no willingness in said content to buy it instead. Surely they have nothing better to spend their money on if they are spending it on such frivolous things like the internet.

We should extend this to all industries. Maybe make it a felony to not have an MPAA movie in your house at all times. Or maybe ban all vehicles that are not branded by Ford.

Or why even do that? We’re clearly just handing money over to the big industries with nothing in return. Why don’t we go all the way and just start giving them our tax dollars? That way they can keep producing content and materials that no one wants, we can continue to not buy it because the market clearly doesn’t want it, and they can continue to have a failing business that earns zero dollars for no one but the richest at the top.

Maybe we can start grinding up actual hobos and the homeless who actually need this kind of real money and use their ground up kibble to feed us after we’re giving all of our money to companies that produce nothing of value and CEOs who have no other talent besides running companies into the ground.


John Doe says:

Re: Someone has to pay

If the people that report the news do not feel like they can get paid for then they will stop doing it and eventually all that will be available for free will poorly reported, less than useful, copies of what we currently have.

You have hit the nail on the head but not in the way you expected. What is happening is the internet has created a national & international market for anyone with a computer. What does that mean? That means that there are to many journalists and newspapers. We don’t need 2 or 3 papers in every town now. A few national/international outlets and maybe some regional ones are all that is needed. The collapse of journalism will serve to drive some from the market to find other jobs.

It is all growth pains and dying pains at the same time. In other words, it is the market changing and ultimately working.

duffmeister (profile) says:

Re: Re: Someone has to pay

I do not think it is a collapse of journalism, just a collapse of the NIAA (News Industry Association of America) and the middlemen. The internet is the great equalizer where there is less need for a whole organization to sponge off the working masses to get the content out. News is a content industry like the rest. They over value their content and want to be paid in a time when anyone can run a successful news outlet in their basement. This is just an extension of the shift away from gatekeepers of content and data. This is a symptom of the whole of society being enabled to do differently than before and actually compensate the sources that matter to them.

In a truly free market this would let the best rise to the top and make a good living while the bad, unusable, unwanted, and unresponsive sources get forced out of the markets.

I welcome them floundering and trying stupid things to hang on as it will make sure the anchor around their neck is their end. It will hide the fact of the changing world from them until they are no longer relevant in the world. It will be a long fall, but they are doing their best to ensure they fail.

John Doe says:

I have a new business plan for myself

I am going to write some songs, produce some movies and run a news(ish) website. Then I am going to register with all the collection societies and demand my share of the royalties/toll/tax money collected. Then I can sit back and watch the checks roll in.

It won’t matter that all of my content will suck and nobody wants to pay for it; it only matters that I created it.

DOlz (profile) says:

Yeah that's the problem

“That’s fantastic, Reinan! Of course this will work! Why, with that sort of cavalier attitude towards the end user, you journalism boys will be sitting at the grownup table with Mr. Movies and Mr. Music in no time!”

Historically the newspapers have made their money from advertising and the backs of their non-union employees. In many communities there a free local newspapers which are payed for strictly by advertising. The big papers have seen their subscriber base drop, because of competing attention for eyeballs, and thus can’t charge as much for advertising.

This is where they started a downward spiral. Using “The Washington Post” as an example, to keep their profits up they cut content and raised prices. Hey we lost more customers and have to reduce our ad rates so let’s cut content and raised prices. Continue repeating above sentence.

Newspapers, movies, music, … when you cut your wrist, refuse medical treatment because you know cutting the other one will make it all better, don’t expect me to feel sorry for you when you bleed out.

Lord Binky says:

Someone has to pay

Well, yeah. Someone does, and if that someone is me, it has to be what I want otherwise piss off. I would even pay to make some news companies go away if that was a choice. How much does one of these journalists expect to make for what they do? If they just sit there sifting through journal paper?s introductions, do they really expect to make much, or even deserve it?

Especially in comparison to posting a paragraph that rephrases the first paragraph of a paper, when you have a detailed editorial over the contents of the same paper with an intelligent analysis and opinions which is not something that is just a line of facts and isn?t spread like a single sentence news fact.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Someone has to pay

“I would even pay to make some news companies go away if that was a choice”

Reminds me of the classic film – Cool Runnings

The guy was trying to raise money for the team by singing “Jamica we have a bob sled team” in the streets. He ended making one dollar from someone who paid him to shut up ; )

Axel H. Horns (user link) says:

"Leistungsschutzrecht" in Germany

Well, it looks as if Mr Reinan’s basic ideas might soon be turned into reality in Germany.

Big publishing companies in Germany have been lobbying heavily on the same lines as Mr Reinan does; they are demanding the creation of another collecting society to which every internet user has to pay some amount of money who (actually or potentially) makes use of journalistic publications, i.e. virtually everyone.

This is my blog post which is about one year old but the plans are still on the official agenda of the current German Government under chancellor Merkel.

LINK to my Blog post

The trick is that classic copyright law as such appears to be insufficient to implement this – publishing companies are demanding some sort of ancillary copyright in addition, the German term is “Leistungsschutzrecht”.

Mr Big Content says:

Re: Re: I guess this means you can legally pirate, because you are paying for their content, right?

Absolutely not. This is typical of freetard thinking, that just because a fee is being collected from them for something, means they can get away with illegally stealing it. This fee is purely to cover losses from not being paid for their content, it doesn?t absolve you of the obligation of paying them for their content.

rubberpants says:

Rent Seeking

Is your business struggling? Do you pay lip service to a free market economy but secretly just want money for doing nothing? Then a government granted monopoly may be for you!

Enjoy these benefits:

1. Extract wealth from society while providing no value
2. Protection provided by the largest law enforcement agencies in the world
3. Freedom from competition
4. No need to innovate
5. Solidify your existing business model

And there’s so much more!

Contact a lobbyist to find out about monopoly rents for your industry today! While supplies last.

hmm (profile) says:


Ok I’ll do all the collecting of this extra $2/month.
I’ll need an extra $1/month to run the collection system.

also to do my OWN accounts ill need a further $1/month.

Since news often happens outside this is also a public performance so lets add another $5/month to the kitty!
also I don’t really want to pay tax on my wages, so we can add $1/month to cover that also….

Did someone said ice cream? mmmm ice cream…..that’ll be another $5/month (gotta have a nice yacht to eat it on!)

Anonymous Coward says:

Internet Bill
Bill date: Feb 3, 2023

Bill items:

Internet service: $42
Bandwidth cap monitoring cost recoup fee: $0.50
Peak-hour internet usage penalty: $3
Government monitoring cost expenditures reclamation: $4

Recording Industry Association tariff: $7
Motion Picture Association tariff: $12
Adult Picture Association tariff: $1.69
Journalist Association of America tariff: $1
eBook Sellers Association tariff: $4
American Society for Politeness online tariff: $1

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

You forgot:

Independent Recording Industry Association tariff: $7
Independent Motion Picture Association tariff: $12
Independent Adult Picture Association tariff: $1.69
Independent Journalist Association of America tariff: $1
Independent eBook Sellers Association tariff: $4
American Society for Rudeness online tariff: $1

Anonymous Coward says:

I support and donate to organizations that do real investigative journalism. Something that we see far too little of anymore. Those that provide real information and insight into the issues we have to deal with deserve the money. Those that just print up whatever is fed to them by government and corporate mouthpieces aren’t worth a dime.

Show me something worth paying for, and I will support it. I see mostly a lot of “newspinion” crap out there right now (and yes, Techdirt is in that category as well), and while I do read some of it, there are far too many sources of it and a shakeout is overdue. Those left standing will have more readers and more ad revenue. The rest will die and hardly be missed. I figure we’ll see most of them go more partisan as well to cater to their audiences. Maybe a few centrists will survive. I hope those few outlets doing real journalism can get enough supporters to keep doing what they do.

Prisoner 201 says:

I am fine with this.

IF my ISP only charges when I actually visit a tariffed site, and also provides a service that warns me everytime I am about to navigate to a tariffed site and allows me to decline going there, as well as the option to add it to either a blacklist (site ceases to exist from my perspective) or a whitelist (no more warnings for that site).

That might not yield quite the result the news industry is looking for, but at least it’s fair to the customer.

ken says:

Would you buy rotten vegetables?

The mainstream news media has become so biased and so inaccurate in their reporting, so seeking of violence, sex, and other sensationalism that the news is now little more than rotten vegetables that people won’t pay for. A free Internet might have sucked a little readership up, but there are numerous sites that make money with Internet advertising. Journalists must recognize that the problem is the product! People don’t spend money on garbage!

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