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Newspapers Fail On The Web

The iPad, as I have stated before, is for the rest of them — them being ignorant people with lots of money. But reading the newspaper on the iPad is hard to charge for when any of them can get the same news for free off the Web.

Rupert Murdoch and his followers have been complaining about this for years; and Murdoch has started practicing what he has been preaching by putting the Times of London behind a paywall. The Guardian and other English newspapers are gleeful of him doing just that. They know disaffected customers will flock to their Web sites after finding themselves shut out of the Web site of the Times.

And it is not just Murdoch: The New York Times plans to do the same by next year (2011). Never mind that the result will almost certainly be that of the Web site of its competitor, Newsday, which gets hardly a visitor. Bloggers on the NYT site are already leaving to set up indepedent blogs elsewhere, rather than face having their works trapped inside a wall.

So there is the problem for a newspaper: You want to stay on the Web. That is where everyone is. But you want to treat the Web as if it were a different form of newspaper, complete with ads. But that is not how the Web works. If a Web surfer cannot get the news they want from your site, they can get it elsewhere. And the more clever among the surfers can ignore your ads with browser extensions or by simply turning off Javascript. So you make no money off the Web site.

So you put up a paywall on your Web site to keep the surfers out, unless they give you the money you are not getting from your ads. But, as already stated, the surfers can go elsewhere, and nobody pays you anything. Worse, your talent — reporters with their articles, commentators with their blogs — realize that if nobody reads their works, their careers are in peril of obscurity. So they complain, or even quit.

This leads to another problem: Murdoch and his ilk have money coming out of all their orifices; and with money comes lots and lots of pull. This is why the debate becomes framed in terms of how we can appease the murdochists while dealing with the free-as-in-speech availability of information on the Web. And thus we have the paraphrased problem: The United States Government does not want to save newspapers by reining in fair use, creating a national hot news right over facts, or charging Internet subscribers anything. But the murdochists and their ilk do; and they are demanding that the federal government carry out some of the worst save the media ideas ever put to paper.

This is (roughly) the preample for an article in Ars Technica on a review of newsgathering by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The article is titled Annals of Imbecility, because many of those ideas — ditch fair use, tax ISPs or electronics, create a monopoly on hot news, exempt paywalls from antitrust laws — are guarantied to drive away the readership and their subscriptions, as well as entangle the newspapers in the courts.

As for the other ideas that the author of the article thinks are not so terrible, they also have unintended but nasty results.

At least Google is kind enough to try to save the newspapers, even though the newspapers and the Associated Press (not knowing what robots.txt is for) are whining that Google is stealing their secret sauce, whatever that is. (?, which also mentions the Ars article.)

Written by Andy West on 29 June 2010.