News International has for a while now been competing in the London free sheet market: its product, The London Paper, has recently enjoyed a circulation of around half a million. But it’s also been recently enjoying a 12.9 million annual loss as well.
So Rupe and his troops are looking to ditch the title. Another sign of financially challenging times for the newspaper industry, and the Murdoch empire in particular: no wriggle room in this straitjacket, no chance of tiding the title over until things pick up.
Because they might not be picking up: this may be the first of many closures, as folks get their content online, and from sources that don’t cost them. Never mind that the free sheet also doesn’t cost you – it’s still an inconvenience to cart around.
And if Rupe really is going to charge for online content? Look briefly across to the USA: if his Fox News site starts charging, will more liberal leaning sites like the Huffington Post do likewise (doubtful)? Dare he do that, and lose power and influence, which Fox undoubtedly wields in its own crude way?
Will Sky News online charge and hand what little presence it has to the BBC? Will the Super Soaraway Currant Bun do likewise?
The more I look at Murdoch’s rationale, the less sense it makes. Closing The London Paper, which probably has little influence, is rational. At a time when more of us get our content online, charging for content and thereby handing the market to the quality providers who are doing it for free is irrational – if you want to keep your level of influence.
It could be a bluff, or first signs of desperation. I’ll keep monitoring ...