Newspapers are losing advertising revenue. Sales are down. But they all put out online editions, and although these carry adverts which generate money, the sites are – right now – free to view. But following less than ideal results recently, Rupert Murdoch’s empire is set to charge for access, starting next year with the Times.
Rupe tells us that “quality journalism costs money”, although how this squares with the online tat that is the Sun or News of the World is unclear. And how folks will react to paying for access may not be to his liking. When England took the Ashes in 2005, the audience garnered by C4 reached around eight million. But that paying to see the test victory at Lord’s recently was just one million. That isn’t to say that the numbers don’t work on pay to view: were that so, Rupe would not be in that particular game.
So perhaps, in the mould of Sky, Rupe could get folks to pay for seeing the latest Sun exclusive. But, as Nick Davies pointed out in Flat Earth News, most of today’s content comes from the PA Wire, backed by churnalism and PR, with comparatively little original content. What would be the point? And, as the Murdoch press have admitted – and they’re not keen about this at all – the BBC online content is free to view, and will continue to be so.
The simplest economic assessment will be made by most who get their news online: they’ll go where it’s free, and so sources like the Beeb will become vastly more popular. As a result, it will be yet more incumbent on them to get their stories right, despite the pressure to be first with everything.
But there is one other potential beneficiary: that is the blogosphere. Newspapers retreating to a pay-only online presence will create a void that blogs can fill – but they’ll have to be good to make it stick. How will that happen? Interesting thought.
I’ll return to this one later.