Paying for your news

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Imagine that the music industry, instead of charging to download music as places like iTunes and, decided to just give the music away for free online while still trying to make money selling CDs.

A silly idea, I know. But that’s not too different from what newspapers have been doing for well over a decade.

Now newspaper executives and media watchers have begun revisiting the idea of requiring customers to <gasp> actually pay for online news.

It is not an easy road to take. It may not even be possible, given that it has been a long time since the media let the horse out of the corral. But times are tough, and newspapers are desperately seeking a way to make a living in the digital age.

Can they do it?

Dallas Morning News executive A. H. Belo seems to think so, telling the newspaper:  “Two years ago, I would have told you that asking people to pay for content on the Web is a ridiculous notion. Today, I will tell you it’s almost imperative we experiment with it to see what the consumer will respond to.”

Belo isn’t the only media executive warming to the concept, according the Poynter Institute’s Al Tompkins:

This topic has been coming up a lot lately after having been buried for a couple of years. Can online news sites successfully charge for content? Or was, in fact, Google’s CEO, Eric Schmidt, on target when he told Fortune, “the culture of the Internet is that information wants to be free”?

What does it mean that some readers are willing to pay a little to have material distributed to a portable device, such as the Kindle?

[Continue reading Charging for Online News]

The Los Angeles Times is even asking that newspapers receive a special exemption from antitrust laws:

It would allow all U.S. newspaper companies — and others in the English-speaking world, as well as popular broadcast-based sites such as — to sit down and negotiate an agreement on how to scale prices and, then, to begin imposing them simultaneously.

[Continue reading Antitrust Exemption]

We have come a long way when the media are seriously consider price fixing, which is usually illegal. Indeed, one wonders how this might alter the media’s perception and coverage of business as a whole. But major newspapers need to figure out something, and they need to do so now.


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This blog is maintained by Dr. Matthew M. Reavy as a service to journalism students at the University of Scranton.



February 2009
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