RobW points us to an opinion piece over at The Guardian, by David Leigh, who argues that there should be a £2 tax on every broadband connection sent to newspapers
in order to prop them up for their own failures to adapt to a changing market place. He tosses out the usual tropes about how only newspapers can do real investigative reporting (what, like hacking voicemails
the way Rupert Murdoch's journalists did?). Of course this is a complete myth. First of all, most newspapers do very little investigative reporting -- and UK papers are also somewhat famous for their ability to stretch the truth at times. Is this really something we want to reward?
The idea is hardly original. It's been suggested for years
and seems to pop up
in random places at random times. While it may be more reasonable than taxing Google
to fund newspapers, it's still a horrifically bad idea. Leigh tries to work out how this would work, arguing that the sum would be divvied up among UK newspapers based on their web traffic. Of course, how you measure web traffic suddenly becomes very, very important. Leigh seems to assume this is easy, and that any such system wouldn't be gamed -- which it would. On top of that, he fails to recognize that the second you base such a huge sum of potential money on purely one metric, news sites would optimize solely on that metric, even if they're not "gaming" the system. So, expect plenty of attempts at sensationalistic stories and the like, rather than the thoughtful investigative reporting he thinks they're going to get.
And how do you define who gets access to the money in the first place? Leigh thinks he has that worked out too... but he does not:
There would be no insuperable problems in defining "news providers". The starting point would be to designate those organisations already classed by the state as zero-rated newspapers under the 1994 VAT legislation : "Newspapers … issued at least once a week in a continuous series under the same title … [which] contain information about current events of local, national or international interest. Publications which do not contain a substantial amount of news are not newspapers."
Other original news providers could subsequently apply to the independent levy board for admission to the scheme, case-by-case. But there would have to be a reasonable size threshold for admission, perhaps set at 100,000 monthly users, and also some rules to exclude content aggregators.
Ok, so that starts out by favoring the very companies who have done the least to adapt to changing times and ignores upstarts who have worked hard to build audiences and business models that work. And then you have to "apply" to get access in a long bureaucratic process where a small group of people (probably pulled from newspapers) gets to pick and choose? That's not how you build innovative companies with innovative business models. And, really, why the ban on "content aggregators"? There is this ongoing argument among old school newspaper people who seem to think that "aggregators" are the enemy -- despite the fact that they send original news sites more traffic and more users, and many aggregators expand into original content production themselves as well. Either way, lots of news sites would start applying, just because there's a ton of cash sitting there, and they'd all just start trying to optimize for the metric to get in.
But, of course, the real problem with all of this is the idea that it ever
makes sense to tax a new technology to prop up those who failed to innovate, failed to adapt and couldn't compete. If they can't do it, let them fail. Contrary to Leigh's rather myopic view of the world, others will come in to fill the need, and they'll do so with innovative business models that don't require a tax. Really, Leigh's piece is best summed up by the first comment
, from user "romandavid" who noted:
"A £2-a-month levy on automobiles could save our horse and cart business."
Exactly. If this got approved, every other disrupted industry would seek the same thing. Record labels? Movie studios? You bet. Travel agents? Absolutely. Really, what industry wouldn't want to add their own "tax" to the internet to try to pretend that we still lived in the 1980s? Thankfully, nearly all of the comments on the article seem to be taking the same general stance, that Leigh's idea is completely ridiculous and self-serving, without any reason or merit.