Monday, 10 August 2009

Nothing in life is free, they say…

Herald AM runs a poll every day on disparate, sometimes desperate, topics. Quite often it’s stuff like “Should Mary be kicked out of the Big Brother House?” or “Should Paris Hilton get a poop-a-scoop for her handbag?”.

This morning, though, it was “Would you pay to read an online newspaper?”, a question inspired by Rupert Murdoch’s plans to introduce such a scheme for his online versions of the News of the World, The Times and the rest of his media empire.

The answer, you probably won’t be surprised to hear, was a resounding “no”.

The problem with that, though, is that nothing is free, is it? It’s all very well bloggers like me pilfering news items from the established media and putting the Gombeen Nation slant on them, but someone has to get the news items first – namely the journalists. And journalists have to be paid.

The problems newspapers are facing are many. They are suffering from reduced advertising revenue due to migration to the web - which pays less than print ads did. They are operating in a recession, and they are trying to sell a product to an emerging generation that prefers its information in byte-sized segments... and expects it to be free.

There is another issue at play here when you consider that many of the scandals in Irish political life were uncovered by the print media, so where would we be if the newspapers were to close down due to lack of income? Irish politicians would have a clear run to carry out their dodgy dealings – and no wonder so many of them are vocal in their criticisms of the press, neutered as it is by our stringent libel laws.

It’s true that one of the healthiest things a society can have is a free press – but I'm afraid we have to pay for it.

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Sven said...

Hi GB,
there are many online "pay-by-read" editions of newspapers out there already - for many years ;-) I was working as an editor for a (German) daily paper myself for seven years and that particular paper has an online edition for the last six or seven years. You get sort of a basic version without any charge, but you must be registered to be able to see and read the full version with all articles and pictures. And yes, I would pay for a (good) Irish online newspaper, also because I can't have one in the mailbox or at the house door every morning, like you have it in other countries ;-) For the Herald ? Certainly not - I probably wouldn't even wrap my fish 'n chips in it !

The Gombeen Man said...

Hi Sven.

That's right... quite a few papers were subscription-based for some (or all) of their content - the Irish Times would be an example with its archive search, for instance.

It's a tricky one... a battle between making their online presence pay and taking enough readers to expand it. Interestingly, in Japan - one of the most technologically advanced nations - newspapers have concentrated more on the printed product, and have not invested as much on their online operations.

A big factor here for Irish papers, is that broadband take-up in Ireland still lags behind most of Europe, which will just delay the inevitable, I think.

bigphathar said...

The 'give it out for free' model for labour intensitive products like newspapers (all those journalists & photographers) is a throw back to the late 90's/early noughties when everyone thought that 'digital' was the solution for everything. Like the Irish economy, everyone lost the run of themselves for a while.

If we're to maintain any real and meaningful journalism newspapers need to start charging for their online content and taking Google etc to court if they infringe copyright. I can't saythat I will enjoy paying for the Irish Times, but I'd prefer to see it survive than not.

The Gombeen Man said...

Me too, BP!

Anonymous said...

Funnily enough the Irish times having been initially free and one of the first to go down the subscrition route has now reverted to being free (bar some premium content) again.

As for Murdoch's rags I dont read them now so Im certainely not going to pay for them when they start charging.

Interestingly $ky TV in its very ealy days was free as well