Rupert charges

The Guardian asked me for quick comment on news that Rupert Murdoch, Mr. MySpace, plans to charge for content. I pulled off the road on my way home and wrote this.

One line trimmed out for space: The debate has been about emotions and entitlement, not economics.

  • David

    Old media barons like Murdoch don’t get it. Now that the pipes of communication are open to everyone, they lose what power they had over distribution. Reuters understands the link economy and is moving into it with gusto and intelligence. The tough part for many old media people is that they fight the inner battle of knowing much of what they put out there isn’t valuable and people won’t pay for it. Advertisers used to need the distribution channels of old media. No more. So ask yourself this people – in a medium (web) where people search for truth, are you reporting it? If not, people will move on. The recession comes at a good time for truth in journalism. It sorts out those with real mission from those who push crud.

  • WSJ looses very little Googlejuice with their pay wall. They look at the referrer and decide whether to admit them. If you’re referred from Google Search, for example, you get the article. They also let Google index their content. Try searching for “twitter attack” on Google, and click on the link to their “Twitter Says Hit By ‘Denial of Service’ Attack” article. Then go to their front page, and click on it. In the first case, you get the article. In the second case, you have to log in. They also have separate URLs in Google’s index, perhaps so you can’t just slap on a referrer to the request, use URLs from their site, and get all of their content. So its a permeable pay wall, and smartly implemented. Hopefully that sort of permeable wall is what they’ll use on their other properties.

    • So, in other words, you can search for a particular story for free, but you can’t read their “newspaper” without paying for it? Seems like we’re about to be reminded about that old axiom that flew around when the web was brand new: news is essential; newspapers are not.

      • Bob P.

        Let’s not forget an awful lot of people still subscribe to this paper — online or in paper form. Some people certainly want to browse this whole publication every day, read its columnists, etc. — and are willing to pay for it. But letting fly-by folks view a story for free because they happened to search for news on a particular topic … That’s a different thing. These are two fairly distinct audiences. Seems like WSJ recognized this, and came up with a clever solution. And of course you can get to their stories for free via the Google News page — but it would be hard to browse the whole paper via Google New. WSJ probably has enough brand as a whole publication that this may work for them. For most other papers, that may not be the case. And even for WSJ, it may not last forever. They will have to stay head-and-shoulders above the rest. Not easy to do.

    • Bob P.

      Didn’t realize that about WSJ .. but I had noticed what I thought were inconsistencies in the paywall. Now that you explain it this way, it makes sense. Yes, an interesting idea

    • Ken,
      But things rise in Googlejuice via links and clicks. When you cut those off at any level, you lose some juice.

      • Yes, that’s exactly why I said “very little”, as opposed to none. Drudge for example also gets to link to their content. Maybe they have plenty of other bloggers that get to link as well (try linking to them, see if they like you). Anyhow, WSJ can do it because, before they put up the pay wall, they had a high page rank. And they get enough linking so that they can maintain that high rank. Their permeable wall wouldn’t work for organizations starting from scratch. A barrier to entry which is probably greater than buying some big press. I said it was smart, not good for journalism :)

      • Actually, it looks like the WSJ articles that drudge links to have been whitelisted for everyone, regardless of the referrer. So there’s something else happening in there as well. maybe they do that for sufficiently popular ones, or ones they see coming from drudge. i’ll see if i can reverse-engineer the whole thing sometime this weekend.

  • The interesting thing here is that Murdoch has enough market share to encourage the media to form a functional oligarchy and move a lot of content behind the pay-wall. If that happens, we may see the birth of truly *NEW* media companies, who can develop credibility and reputation by providing accurate, timely information for free.

    Murdoch may be hastening the very paradigm-shift he’s trying to avoid…

  • I had a call recently from the Times trying to persuade me to take a free delivery at home offer. Not-b*****-likely as I no longer buy the rag anymore. It used to be an authoritative source but is little more than an opinion sheet full of non-news I’ve already come across elsewhere.
    I remember pre web based online newspaper databases – I paid to access them and they were really useful. I doubt we’ll ever have anything like those again if the news sources remain as dire as they are now.

  • steve

    i just wish they’d go ahead and leap from the f’in building already… they are simply holding up traffic.

    where’s steven brill’s “brill”-iance in all of this? didn’t he assure that there where announcements coming within “weeks”? that was like 3 months ago.

  • You need to distinguish among the widely varying content in the world that is finding it’s way online. News is one thing but there tons of websites charging for and making good money from selling content particularly expert advice. Consider the site HerbMentor which is for folks interested in learning more and exchanging information about herbs…it does very well.

  • Tom Wolper

    Like others here, I think this move by Murdoch will be a failure. And without ignoring the miseries of people laid off, I think the failure will become a teachable moment for the old media. Assuming the revenues from the pay model don’t match the drop in advertising and added expenses of subscriber acquisition and retention, News Corp properties are going to face this decision: drop the pay wall and scale back to match advertising revenues, or keep the pay wall and produce content which is not commodity news and can’t be found elsewhere. That also means scaling back operations.

    As an aside, how is Rupert going to market his subscription service? The slogan that comes out of the tone of his statements is, “You bastards have been reading the news for free for long enough! Now it’s time to pay up!” That should get him lots of business.

    • Andy Freeman

      > As an aside, how is Rupert going to market his subscription service? The slogan that comes out of the tone of his statements is, “You bastards have been reading the news for free for long enough! Now it’s time to pay up!” That should get him lots of business.

      Actually, it’s pretty easy.

      He sets up/buys his own search engine, puts all of his content on it, and blocks all other search engines.

      He then gets all of the search engine revenues and if that’s not enough, he can put the search engine behind a pay wall. He can still play all of the current paywall games for individual publications.

      Of course, if customers don’t value his content as much as he thinks that they should, that strategy is a disaster, but ….

  • wow, what surprising new insights in that guardian column, jeff.

    did we really expect that the newspaper paradigm shift would take place without a fight? come on now, something like this had to happen. and if we want to be confident that the “new paradigm” is the real, true, right one for the age, don’t we _want_ a fight to prove it out?

    still, i, for one, am not confident that murdoch will fail…not confident of anything, actually. just waiting, with baited breath, to see how the drama unfolds.

  • Funny as some industries are just denying the reality… same goes with music
    The New Yorker posted an interview of Joel Tenenbaum, the twenty-five-year-old physics student from Boston University who was ordered to pay $675,000 to record companies as a result of illegally distributing thirty songs over file-sharing networks.


    THE NEW YORKER: What is your reaction to the judgment as it stands?

    JOEL TENENBAUM: Disappointed but not surprised.

    THE NEW YORKER: Does the amount of the judgment seem surreal? Real? Tragic? Tragicomic?

    JOEL TENENBAUM: Absolutely surreal. It has no bearing to reality or any sort of market price of anything.

    THE NEW YORKER: Without ratting anyone out, what per cent of your friends and acquaintances either download or share music?

    JOEL TENENBAUM: I’ll let you know when I can find someone who doesn’t.

    THE NEW YORKER: Given that, how can the R.I.A.A. justify this selective punishment of you and a few others?

    JOEL TENENBAUM: They are “educating” a generation about how “wrong” file-sharing is. Hold me up high enough and people will stop sharing music out of fear. Meanwhile, in the real world, countless people have messaged me, “I’m never paying for music again. I can’t justify ever supporting these guys.”

    THE NEW YORKER: What is the rationale for going after those who share rather than those who download for personal use?

    JOEL TENENBAUM: Proving downloading is “impossible,” even though I freely admit to it. Scare enough people from sharing and the network doesn’t work. Not that that will happen.

    THE NEW YORKER: In what way do they argue that this punishment of individual consumers benefits or protects artists?

    JOEL TENENBAUM: In a world of flagrant disregard for copyright, they argue this will scare/educate people into respecting it. The majority of people will only get music through legitimate sources. This all ignores the fact that music is essentially free now. They’d prefer not to compete with free, but I think iTunes does this quite well. It’s a great piece of innovation.

    THE NEW YORKER: Given that music downloading seems to be a runaway train, what do you think the solution is?

    JOEL TENENBAUM: I’m not saying file-sharing is wrong. I’m not saying file-sharing is right. I’m saying that file-sharing is. And file-sharing always will be, unless we start instituting an oppressively authoritarian packet filter on the Internet, which would have enormous social harm and squander the power of the free Internet. My solution: do as Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails does: accept music as being free and focus on ways to motivate the consumer to want to pay for it, e.g., specialized packaging, concerts, merchandise. Most people want to pay for music when they know the revenue goes straight to the artist—for instance, Radiohead’s “pay what it’s worth” model. When an entire generation has been raised without supervision on music as a post-scarcity resource, it effectively becomes free, and it’s a little late for an incredibly small but immensely powerful minority to impose its will and alter the norms of an entire generation. It won’t work and it’s wrong to try.

    THE NEW YORKER: In a practical sense, can you think of any way that the record companies could use downloading to their advantage (distributing low-quality music and then encouraging purchase, investing in expiring MP3s or similar technologies)?

    JOEL TENENBAUM: The recording companies tried restricting music. They tried encrypting files with DRM, Fairplay, etc., and it didn’t work. Eventually they caved and offered open, unencrypted MP3s in the last year or two, and now they’re profiting again.

    If they want appeal to people’s sense of fairness, stamp on a digital sale exactly where that money goes: how much of it will be returned to the artist, how much to “nurturing new artists,” as they say.

    Now exactly how long is it going to take for industry executives to figure out that these legal actions are the equivalent of, to quote Seth Godin’s words in another context, shaving a bear so it can deal with global warming? How come their only answer is to focus on repression rather than innovation? Why address minor collateral “damage” when in fact the whole business model must be turned on its head?

    It’s good to see that some fresh ideas are entering the music production business.
    My Major Company (MMC) is one of those; it chose to use the internet for what its best at: connecting. The idea is to let consumers produce the artists they like and believe in. They can invest as little as 10€ and as much as 10 000€ in any artist pre selected and featured on the website. Once an artist has obtained 100 000€ worth of investment MMC takes care of producing the album as well as promotion.
    The returns derived from the sales are then equally split between the artists, the producers (hence the fans) and MMC.
    Not only does this create a new kind of relationship between the artists and his producers / fans but it also is a viable business strategy limiting risk and initial investment.

    Not to say that this is a flawless model as certain questions remain but judging from the results and comments from “traditionnal” industry executives, this is surely something the rest of the music business should digg into…

    Similar models exist with the likes of Spidart in France and Sellaband in the Netherlands.

    • Rob Levine

      First of all, this is NOT a fresh idea – it’s theft. Secondly, it’s not a very good business model for Joel – he owes a hefty fine, and deservedly so. Thirdly, this excerpt if WAY over the line of fair use, and the fact that you posted it proves that you neither understand the rights of creators nor respect them.

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  • Hal Lawton

    I was doing a lookup on a matter of historical record this weekend and a search brought me to a New York Times archive page from 80 years ago. They asked me to pay $15 to read 10 archived articles.

    Keep in mind that I was just casually interested in this material and not doing research for which I was getting paid by anyone.

    There weren’t many alternatives to that source (after 80 years) but there were enough. Since I knew the article was an interview with a criminal whose version of events would be colored by not wanting to go to jail for long, I knew I wouldn’t be getting the truth so I declined to pay…even though it would have been interesting to read their colorful version of what happened (some of which I had also read elsewhere).

    Since I can go to a library to read old newspaper articles for free, it is a shame that I cannot do so with the NYTimes online.

    Does a newspaper have a copyright on their own material going back 80 years? I had thought that, after 75 years, everyone loses their copyright.

    • Andy Freeman

      > Does a newspaper have a copyright on their own material going back 80 years?

      In the US, yes. Basically, copyright covers anything from the first Mickey Mouse to today.

      > Since I can go to a library to read old newspaper articles for free, it is a shame that I cannot do so with the NYTimes online.

      Even if it was out of copyright, the NYT is not obligated to provide free access. (And, I’ll bet that they’ve figured out a way to extend copyright for their on-line stuff, so the only thing that goes out of copyright is the stuff in the paper version, which will only be accessible if you keep the paper.)

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  • I think everybody is going to find how wrong they are on this topic. It reminds me of the days where the majority were swearing that user driven content was THE WAY. Plenty were saying not and it worked out we were right.

    There will be both paid and free content online, period. These discussions are nonsensical in my opinion. Subscription content is not driven by some evil lord: WE choose to pay for it. That’s how it has always sustained, and that’s how it will always sustain.

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