Mr Murdoch, You Might as Well Charge Me to Hang Out at a Bookstore


newslock_socialnerdiaThese are scary times for old media. The Internet has forced them to change or die or both. The media decline is probably most obvious in newspapers. The New York Times is not yet “a print newsletter for the elite and the elderly,” as the EPIC 2014 video put it in 2004, but it is definitely not what it used to be. The Wall Street Journal's gloomy financial results are not getting any better. You don't have to be a finance guru to know that the rest of the newspapers are also struggling.

Similarly, magazines are barely making it. Book sales are great, but only if you are JK Rowling. Hollywood movies are downloadable, sometimes even reviewed, before they are released. Marketers and consumers continuously wonder if TV is overpriced. Record labels and the music industry are running out of dumb ideas and Radiohead’s good ideas make their dumb ideas seem even dumber. And AM/FM radio... well, I can’t remember the last time I listened to it, but I've heard several podcasts and Pandora stations in the last few days.

And while MySpace continues to slide downhill from social web darling to shady poster child for uncoolness, its less than proud papa News Corp. is trying to change the way we consume news by announcing that it will charge for news content. Yes, charging, as in asking you to pay money for it.

Last time I checked, the news were free. The news are available to all and shared via links. The clicks on those links are what keeps advertisers paying for ads and what should make them pay much more in the future.

Everyone knows that The Wall Street Journal is one of the best newspapers in the world and that its writers are exceptional. I subscribed to it once (several years ago) and then canceled shortly after because I simply didn't know what to do with such a huge pile of unread paper.

The same goes for magazines. While I've subscribed to some, I end up canceling the majority of them. The problem is that I can often get similar content online, for free. If I really wanted to read some quality journalism on quality print, like The Economist or Harvard Business Review, then I would head down to my second favorite source for free reading: Barnes and Noble. B&N has a plethora of covers and articles available for everyone to enjoy without paying a cent. I would rather spend my money on a coffee while sitting on a comfy chairs , than subscribe to a bunch of magazines and newspapers.

So if I am not prone to pay for printed media, why would I want to pay for news online? I can get news from more than enough sources; from blogs to content aggregators to syndication sites to pretty much anyone with a Twitter account.

Sure, some sites charge for some of their content. AdAge is one of them. And that’s ok, I forgive them for it.

Charge all you want, but I won’t pay for it and most people won't either. You can paint your distribution channel with pretty colors and tell me it’ll only be a few micropayments, and you still won’t convince me. Unlike music, the news have always been free from a consumer point of view.

Still, as crazy as the idea sounds, News Corp. is thinking differently and I give them props for that. Trying out a “new” old model is not a dumb idea. It’s just an old idea that probably won’t work.

News Corp. couldn't have naively made such a huge decision so I wonder if I'm wrong. What if this wasn’t just about Murdoch reacting to the $2B loss announcement? And what if all the global media moguls got together for some tea in the Caribbean and decided that it’s time to say “enough is enough.” What if one day we had no choice but to pay micropayments for every single news site out there?

If all news sites started to charge for the news, then three things would happen. One, those that paid for the news would have a competitive advantage. Two, those that paid for the news would make it available for free elsewhere on blogs, content aggregators, and other, gasp, advertising-sponsored means. And three, the media moguls would realize that the 3% of the population that decided to pay for news would not do so forever. That pretty much brings us back to where we started.

And that's why the media moguls won’t get together for tea in the Caribbean. Some of them are busy being greedy, scared and skeptical, while others are brainstorming for a better solution that includes advertisements. Some might follow the News Corp. path and some will not. Quality journalism will always have its place and some people will pay for bits of it, but I'm not sure it will be enough.

Regardless, most of us will probably keep reading the news. For free. Online. And at Barnes & Noble, where there’s free Wi-Fi. I might even take a break from the news to read Chris Anderson’s “Free” book, which I got for free from Amazon and is now readily available on my free Kindle app on my iPod Touch.

bookstorelock_socialnerdiaSo, in conclusion, since we already have the Internet’s free news content, what we REALLY need is a 24-hour bookstore. Someone should get on that. Let’s just hope it’s not Mr. Murdoch or we’ll be charged by the hour for hanging out in there.

Copyright © Esteban Contreras. All rights reserved.