The end of free

Rupert Murdoch’s media empire News Corp reported a huge financial loss ($3.4bn). Naturally this cannot go un-commented so in today’s Guardian Murdoch is quoted as saying that quality journalism* is not cheap and the era of a free-for-all in online news was over.

So what to do? Well Murdoch’s response is to start charging for online news:

“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.”

There may have been a time in history when newspapers could have gone the way of pay-per-view but today the free has spread. One of the reasons for the increasing losses in the print industry is not the traditional web but rather the growth of user-produced content (web2.0). Even if many of these user-producers leech of print media (as does this article since it is a reaction of what I read in the Guardian) it would be very difficult to lock down the news.

The news (whatever that term means) is spread in a number of different sources. Official, unofficial, personal, impersonal, gossip, fact, free, costly etc. But few news sources are so powerful that they can be enclosed and charge money for their content when they once have been provided for free. A pre-internet truth has always been: Any news source can be adequately filled by other news sources. The internet aggravates this by provided a seemingly infinite amount of news sources.

Even though the newspaper business is struggling with their adaption to new technology, charging readers to read their material online will fail. Any attempt by a newspaper to end free will only result in the end of that newspaper. For better or worse – free is here to stay.

* Cannot resist reminding people that “quality journalism” provided by News Corp includes trashy tabloids like The Sun and News of the World as well as quality like The Times and Wall Street Journal.

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