Saturday, August 8, 2009
Paying for internet news
Media Baron Rupert Murdoch’s News International has recently made a net loss of £2Billion. In response Mr Murdoch has announced that he is to charge for access to his news internet sites such as The Times, The Sun and the News of the World (and Sky News?).
The Guardian quotes him as follows:
"Quality journalism is not cheap," said Murdoch. "The digital revolution has opened many new and inexpensive distribution channels but it has not made content free. We intend to charge for all our news websites."
This has raised eyebrows in the UK, partly because no one has ever successfully charged for the news and partly because of News International’s history.
This company changed the way newspapers were printed in London in the Battle of Wapping, the second great strike of the Thatcher era that sought the Unions brought to heel. Briefly, News International moved printing out of Fleet Street, where obsolete hot metal presses were wildly overmanned by ludicrously overpaid and underworked print workers, to Wapping (now Docklands,), where modern computer technology was employed. This opened the floodgates and within a few years all the major papers followed.
Mr Murdoch had some interesting comments that are reported (in an edited version) here:
The paragraphs that I find interesting are:
“Today the pace of technological change is quickening, while the direction of change remains unpredictable. Technology is unpredictable partly because it depends upon the act of invention, and partly because even inventors cannot accurately imagine the place which their inventions will find in our lives. When Thomas Edison invented the phonograph, he imagined that voice recordings would be sent through the mail to replace written letters. The classic recent example is the fax machine. Many experts saw no place for it because they thought transmitting information by modem was more efficient. The funny thing is, they were right; modems are more efficient, but they are apparently not as effective, given the way we are organized right now. The history of invention is riddled with such tales.
The only thing we can be sure of is that, while technology adapts quickly, governments do not, which is why government policy is so dangerous in this field. Placing one’s faith in the thousands of voluntary decisions that together constitute a free market is not easy. One finds that faith only in highly developed societies, and even then it is a fragile late-season blossom, easily dashed by war or other crises. The decision to rely on market forces is the essence of modernization. Yet technological change often provokes atavistic, authoritarian responses. The real danger of the present technological revolution is that we may be panicked by future shock into regressive schemes of regulation.”
He was wrong about emails, fax was a very short lived technology, but is he right about the plan to charge for internet news content? Will anyone pay to read stories free elsewhere? Is News International riding the new technological wave into the future or are they responding with an “atavistic, authoritarian response”, to use his own words?