Ostrich meets sand

The Wall Street Journal has an incredible piece of Brigadoon on its op-ed page today: the editor of the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, Walter E. Hussman, arguing that newspapers are killing themselves on the internet.

One has to wonder how many of the newspaper industry’s current problems are self-inflicted. Take free news. News has become ubiquitous, free, and as a result, a commodity. Anytime you are trying to sell something that becomes a commodity, you have lost much of the value in providing that product or service.

Not many years ago if someone wanted to find out what was in the newspaper they had to buy one. But not anymore. Now you can just go to the newspaper’s Web site and get that same information for free.

The newspaper industry wonders why it is losing young readers. Those readers might be young, but many of them are smart, not to mention computer-savvy. Why would they buy a newspaper when they can get the same information online for free?

Amazing. I thought that in the aftermath of Knight-Ridder’s and Tribune’s collapses, the American newspaper industry was waking up. But there are still Brigadoons that resist change at any price. Hussman thinks he can still hold his consumers by the throat and make them do what he wants them to do: ‘You vill buy my newspaper.’ He brags that he keeps his news behind a subscription wall. So I go to his site and click on this story and get only the first few graphs. But it’s a story from the New York Times wire and I can get a more current and complete version for free here.

Mr. Hussman, your days of being able to control your market as a news monopoly are over. Rather than trying to preserve the past, I’d suggest that you try to figure out how to prosper in the future.