Murdoch charging for online news – seems a bit backward to me

By Matt Cornock

The recent suggestion by Rupert Murdoch that he will be charging for online news provision starting sometime in 2010 goes against all intuition. Here’s my analysis and predictions. I mentioned the story to two people already and they both said ‘Well we’ll use BBC News instead…’ – who will pay for online news or celeb gossip? Not likely the target audience of celeb gossip (think about it).

Murdoch’s media empire is in the red according to latest reports, as advertising revenue has dropped by 18% for the four UK papers under News Corp. The solution for them is to charge for access to The Sun and The Times online newspapers. However, where there remains competition on price (all other free news sources) and product (good quality impartial journalism), it’s not likely a chargable service for The Sun will succeed. Murdoch wants to have good material that other people want, and he won’t be afraid to take legal action against those who pinch his copyrighted journalism and scoops.

Take a look at ‘the general public’ initial opinion:

A News Corp. paper: The Wall Street Journal, already restricts access to certain articles in its online format. One of the ‘big’ stories is Twitter being attacked by hackers forcing the site to be inaccessible. Where The Wall Street Journal charges, the following sites make what little information they have been given by Twitter, available for free:

A lot of the articles covering this story suggest this is the way newspapers are going:

Sounds like the music industry

Consider the parallels with the music industry, trying helplessly to fight copyright. That industry has slowly realised that the way to make money is not to charge for the product, but to make the product better with add ons such as the iPod, extra tracks, biog info, and above all: merchandise. It’s also encouraged a bigger digital music industry, with lots of new artists easily sharing their new creation through creative commons sites like Jamendo. Taking newspapers down this route will indeed have similar effects. Journalists will be in abundance, not professionally but in amateur form… hang on they already are!

Social web coming to the rescue

One benefit is that blogs, microblogs (like Twitter), community sites and social networking sites will be the new way that news is shared. It will be self-edited, with news stories rising to importance not by one editor, but by a whole community saying ‘read this’.  

Analysis

So what can News Corp. give us for money, that other places can’t give for free? Let’s take a look at the two major papers. In square brackets are their most likely free alternative…

The Sun:

  • Celeb photos [Any other online paper / Google Images / IMDB]
  • Hot gossip [Twitter]
  • Sports news [Any other sports journalist / BBC / ITV]
  • Bags of opinion [Blogs]
  • High bandwidth [iPlayer]
  • Flashing adverts [50% of the Internet?!]
  • Page 3, etc. [70% of the Internet?!]

The Times:

  • Political… um… journalism [Blogs, amateur journalist, leaks] 
  • The Times Higher Education Supplement [Other newspapers / BBC]
  • League Tables [Publically available information / Other papers]
  • Lengthy analysis [Other newspapers / BBC]

Conclusion

When you can’t compete on price, then the product must up its game. If the product isn’t relevant to today’s consumer, it’s time to pack up and go.

References

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