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Monday 24 September 2012

Monetising The Web

Quality newspapers – the Maily Telegraph at present excepted – are losing money. The Times titles are effectively being cross-subsidised by the seven day Sun, the Independent ones are propped up by the generosity of Evgeny Lebedev, and the deeply subversive Guardian also cross-subsidises the paper from profits made elsewhere in Guardian Media Group (GMG).

The Murdochs have for some time protested at the hated BBC “dumping free content” on the web, which they deem to be jolly rotten, given that the Beeb is funded through the TV licence. By contrast, their paywall model for the Times website does not appear to be doing at all well, with those looking for news and information going instead to the Telegraph and Guardian.

But websites are in themselves not generating sufficient profit, not even Mail Online, with its “sidebar of shame” and borderline soft porn to entice readers to click on its offerings. So the more thoughtful of the media world have at least read through and inwardly digested David Leigh’s suggestion that broadband bills should have a monthly supplement levied to then be distributed around news providers.

The problem with rational assessment of the Leigh idea is that he writes for the Guardian, which would be a prime beneficiary, as well as being a favourite target for the boo-boys on the right who would love nothing more than to see the paper and its influence vanish for good. So the rabble at the Guido Fawkes blog have called the proposal a “bill to bail out bankrupt newspapers”, which it is not.

It’s about content available for free. Fortunately, Dominic Ponsford of Press Gazette, who has contributed an item for the Staggers on the subject, has taken a more rational and constructive view. While he thinks Leigh’s idea is a non-starter, he does concede “Leigh is right that something needs to be done”. He reaches this conclusion after a stark assessment of the “do nothing” scenario.

And that is “Without the work that national and regional newspaper titles do we would be left with a view of the world dominated by PR and advertising with some blogger propagandising thrown in for good measure”. The Fawkes blog, trusted by just 4% of respondents to a recent survey, shows what “blogger propagandising” really means. So what’s his big idea?

My alternative idea is for the Newspaper Publishers Association, the Newspaper Society, the PPA and the commercial broadcasters to get together and create their own news search engine. The accompanying search advertising could then be split between their members ... I suspect that professional publishers’ share of Google’s £3bn in UK advertising income would be more than the £500m brought in by the Leigh tax”.

An interesting starting point – so let’s see the sensible debate begin.

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