Monday, February 9, 2009

Mark Day, the clamour for paid sites, and the death of newspapers

Poor old Mark Day over at The Australian is worried about Rupert and declining revenue for newspapers, under the header Clamour for paid site rises.

Actually I haven't noticed too many consumers clamoring to pay for online content. I haven't actually noticed too many consumers eager to drop their cash on hard copy either, hence the slowly spiralling drop in circulation. I haven't much noticed consumers clamoring to save newspapers by continuing to use what was once their rivers of gold, the classified ads, when online suppliers offer superior services.

So what are you going to charge for Mark? Opinions? Opinions are part of what's brought newspapers so low. Back in the old days, newspapers were a little more refined in their arguments. These days it's just a lot of low rent opinion makers shouting at each other. Heck, I can do that any day of the week via blogs, and it's free (and given the quality, free it deserves to stay).

Poor Mark yearns for the French decision to give away papers to 18 year olds and offer the industry a subsidy to keep it afloat. But he's troubled. Something about a conflict of interest, he mutters, and the need to bite sponsors on the bum, but I think it might be a bit bald faced even for the Sun King. It'd certainly get Janet Albrechtsen's knickers in a knot. No joy there, not for the pirate free marketeers of the world. Subsidy? The French? Wash your mouth out with soap, Mark Day!

So okay, start charging. But I only need one decent free service to get my news fix, and I'll have no need to pay for any of the rest. Okay the BBC, ABC and NPR will do. Bloody public freebies. So you'd have to ban them? That'll be a long time coming.

But not everybody wants to read and watch leftie leather patched pinko newshounds. Fine, the wingnuts can look after themselves. 

Now what are you going to charge me for? The opinion makers? But Mark I'd rather be roasted over a hot bed of red coals then directly pay a cent to Janet Albrechtsen for her views.

"The clamour for paid news sites is rising," Mark intones at the end of his column, more in fear and hope than discernible reality. Indeedy, the clamour is rising, but strictly amongst nervous journos, anxious owners, and depressed shareholders. 

Don't try to figure out a price at which you'll be able to sell content. The New York Times tried that, and failed, and now will try again, and fail, and so it goes. Suddenly you're facing the reality of Australian feature films in the market place Mark - too few willing to pay a market price for junk (think Daily Terror) - or any producer trying to shift audio visual content online but confronted by pirates who've already distributed enough free stuff for me to stay indoors for the next twenty years. 

The only solution, the only way forward, is advertising, handled well and priced sensibly, and being able to dominate local markets, but with that comes downsizing, just as free to air is now discovering that it's a tough world, and it needs tits and bums and crims up on the screen (and pay discovered consumers couldn't just pay, they had to watch ads as well). 

When you talk about the way newspapers once provided content, I'm afraid the old days of reprinting opinion pieces flashed around the world by teleprinter and dressed up as new news when in fact it was just newspapers cannibalizing each other have long gone. Why should I read The Age reprinting David Books when I can read him online at source a day earlier? And what if The New York Times goes ahead and charges me for his dulcet words? 

Meh. There's plenty of other fish in the sea, already drowning me with the noise of their words. David Brooks is expendable.

Don't clutch at straws, like imagining the world wants ever more news. And don't worry about the insanity of giving it away. How else to explain the insanity of Rupert devising free throwaways like Mx to ensure there's no afternoon traffic for the Daily Terror?

And don't feel too bad. The dinosaurs went away, but the world moved along, perfectly happy without them (unless maybe you could really reconstruct the DNA from a mosquito, now that'd be fun). And newspapers in hard copy form will surely die, and be replaced by other forms of delivery. So it goes (unless maybe we'll be able to reconstruct some of them by using carbon capture techniques to reproduce smelly ink on fish wrapping page). 

Gee I'm suddenly thinking Kurt Vonnegut could do another novel like Player Piano (if he hadn't gone the way of the dinosaurs), the one where they smashed all the machines, and then decided it was really fun to fix them up. 

Could it be that print newspapers will be the choice of hobbyists in the future, like model train sets and 78 rpm discs, while online we get down and dirty by watching incessant ads with slivers of content designed to keep us hooked? Why do I know all the American online ads for the Comedy Channel in abundant detail, and even yearn to go to America to use their excellent services?

I'm afraid Mark that the old road is rapidly aging, and you'd better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone. Even Bob Dylan understood that - can't think of a better revolutionary song to use as a Superbowl advertisement than good ol' radical Bobbie D. So it goes.

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