The news that Rupert Murdoch and his various companies are going to introduce charges for their various news sites has prompted me to write a slightly serious posty update thing.
In the UK the big three newspapers that will be affected by Murdoch’s latest scheme The Times, News of the World and the Sun, presumably Sky News online will also carry a charge but let’s be honest, who in their right mind goes to that site anyway? Sweeping aside the inevitable ‘Murdoch should be paying me to read that shite’ comments, will this business model work and what implications does it have for us, the consumers?
Murdoch’s News Corporation has already lost at least £2bn this year, so he is clearly looking at new ways to make a few quid, presumably unhappy with the advertising revenue generated by his news sites. Online readers devoted to individual titles probably will pay to continue reading; whether that percentage of subscribers is enough match or even beat advertising revenue remains to be seen, but it is the loyal readers that will be the make or break of the new business model. Scoops and exclusive pictures might attract some subscribers but how long can those stories and pictures remain behind behind closed doors? With the stories, the answer is not very long. Whilst the Telegraph recently enjoyed day after day of exclusives with the expenses scandal, all the other papers were soon reporting the same thing – so if the Times has an exclusive story, will I pay to read it or wait until it’s reported elsewhere? The answer is pretty obvious: I won’t be paying. Exclusive pictures and our thirst for celebrity could prove to be a winner for cheeky old Rupert, but they will leak elsewhere online. I suspect that Murdoch’s legal teams will be hunting down all sorts of illegal activity but even they, with the full force of the Murdoch wallet behind them, will be unable to control the spread of an exclusive picture.
Another problem facing Murdoch is well illustrated by this article in the Guardian. You don’t even need to click the link to see what the problem is. So many people now share links to stories that drive up the web traffic for online newspapers – this will become a thing of the past for those sites that carry a charge.
Of course if this model is a success, other papers will follow – which would be a complete disaster. One of the great things about news on the internet is the ability to compare stories, to got from site to site finding great stories, articles and features, one could almost say ‘surfing the internet’. Will we be doing this if all online papers introduce charges? No, and that result will undo so much good that has been brought about by the internet.
So what next? Encrypted radio stations? Where does one stop when it comes to this? Thankfully in the UK we’ll always have the BBC and whilst I’d hate to get all my news from there, at least I and others will be able to do so free of any charge. The spread of news should not be restricted to those who can afford it.
On the other side of things, I can sympathise with Rupert (although do slightly hate myself for it). I work (or don’t work as the case actually is at present) in the TV industry and understand the damage that the internet has/can do. Illegal downloads, peer-to-peer sharing of content that should be paid for – most of us have done it at some point – an odd episode of our favourite American sit-com, a dodgy copy of MS Office – this sort of thing means that ‘the companies’ have less money, which in turn means they’re not employing me. Is it possible to have totally free content? No, advertising alone cannot support it, we know that and I’m happy to pay for some content – but I don’t and shouldn’t have to pay for all of it.
Now that’s out of the way, here’s a funny video from a BBC Two series which shows us that the news is shit anyway, so why even bother. Fuck ’em, introduce the charges, I don’t want to read the horrible papers anyway.