I mince no words in a post I wrote for the Guardian on Murdoch’s announcement that the pay wall is finally going up around the Times and Sunday Times of London. The discussion at the Guardian is already lively; please go there to join in.*
Rupert Murdoch has declared surrender. The future defeated him.
By building his paywall around Times Newspapers, he has said that he has no new ideas to build advertising. He has no new ideas to build deeper and more valuable relationships with readers and will send them away if they do not pay. Even he has no new ideas to find the efficiencies the internet can bring in content creation, marketing, and delivery.
Instead, Murdoch will milk his cash cow a pound at a time, leaving his children with a dry, dead beast, the remains of his once proud if not great newspaper empire.
I used to work for Murdoch at his American magazine TV Guide. I respected his balls. It is a pity to see them gone.
According to his biographer, Michael Wolff, Murdoch has not used the internet, let alone Google (he only recently discovered email) and so he cannot possibly understand the dynamics, demands, and opportunities of our post-industrial, now-digital media economy. I use the internet and teach it and write about it and I still can’t grasp the complete implication of the change. I don’t think even Google can.
So to try to transpose old business models to this new business reality is simply insane. Just because people used to pay in print they should pay now—when the half-life of a scoop’s value is a click, when good-enough news that’s free is also a click away, when the new newsstand of Google and Twitter demands that you stay in the open, searchable and linkable? This argument I hear about pay walls comes from emotional entitlement (readers should pay—when did you ever see a business plan built on the verb should?), not hard economics.
The hard truth is that news organizations will shrink or die. No longer monopolies or oligopolies, the barrier to entry to their kingdom and business reduced to an inch, they simply cannot maintain their old scale, the size and margins that the City demanded. A new ecosystem of news, made up of countless smaller players operating under varying means, motives, and business models, will undercut the big, old institutions. The hard iron that once was their advantage—the presses and trucks—now become a killing weight around their craggy necks.
But in Murdoch’s folly, I see opportunity. As a Guardian writer, I should rejoice at the added readers and influence we will get (though all these challenges are ours, too). As a teacher of entrepreneurial journalism at the City University of New York, I see openings for my students to compete with the dying relics by starting highly targeted, ruthlessly relevant new news businesses at incredibly low cost and low risk. My students understand the new media reality that has scared the once-indomitable Murdoch. They are, as he himself put it, digital natives.
Murdoch is a stranger in a strange land. All he has left to do is build a wall around himself and shrink away, a vestige of his old, bold self. Who would have thought that we’d end up feeling pity for the man? It’s almost enough to make me want to throw him a few quid. On second thoughts….
*[Didn’t mean to have comments also turned off here; they’re on now.]