Friday, 20 November 2009

Murdoch leads the way to end the conspiracy of 'free internet' content

Good on Rupert Murdoch. Those are four words I never thought I'd type. But nonetheless, he and his son James are to be congratulated for their decision to start charging on-line readers of The Times. It's a risky move for News International, but it's a brave one. In asking on-line readers to pay, just as readers of the newspaper must, they risk the wrath of the internet generation, who have grown obese through gorging themselves on the product of the great myth of the noughties - that everything on the internet is and more to the point, should be, free.

Let's get this straight. The internet is a wonderful thing and has emancipated millions of people through opening up information on an almost unimaginable scale. But the damaging corollary of this emancipation has been the belief amongst users that the only role they have is to consume content, not pay for it. This pernicious trend has had profound implications for other forms of entertainment. First music, and now film. Ordinary people, not merely youngsters, have assumed that it is perfectly acceptable to obtain copyrighted material by illegally copying it on-line. What I hope that the News International decision may do is strike a blow for creative people, wherever they exist. Be they up and coming rock bands who struggle to sell their music due to illegal file sharing, or film-makers whose work is ripped off shortly after it leaves the editing suite.

You wouldn't expect to be able to steal perfect copies of a painter's artwork. You don't have a right to free newspapers in newsagents. All creative art or journalism has to be made by real people, doing real jobs. We do not live an a Star Trek-style utopia where everyone just pursues his or her creative dreams. We live in the real world in which people need to make money from their intellectual property and their creative talent, just as readily as a plumber needs to make money out of his or her plumbing skills, or a doctor their medical training. We need to rebalance the on-line world so that it provides appropriate revenue streams for those who create the content. In this world, you don't get anything for nothing. It is time the internet generation accepted this truism.

More on this later.


  1. Completely agree it's important that journalists establish a way of monetising content via the internet, but the mooted subscription model may not be the answer.

    What the last 10 years have shown is that when commodities are priced fairly online, and users get value from their purchase, they will happily pay. A few years ago, it looked like Napster and the like had destroyed the music industry, but the prevalence of iTunes, Spotify and the like today show that people will pay, provided the price represents value.

    A subscription model for an online newspaper sounds crackers, unless the subscription is cheap (unlikely) or the content great (ditto).

    I've been coming round to the idea of micropayments being the future of newspapers. This would mean users could pick and choose articles from wherever they want, whenever they want (how much content in a Saturday newspaper do you actually read - 30%?).

    BUT I think this would jeopardise quality reporting, as it would skew the economics towards the most popular articles. So I can see why The Times is being forced to look at a subscription model in the absence of advertising revenue.

    All I can say is unless everyone else follows it will surely just dent their online traffic, and brand.

    Right now my best guess at how papers can make it work is something like The Guardian's approach to online: embrace the differentness to print - by involving the community in debates, for example. It will be fascinating to see how they choose to monetise, as they will undoubtedly have to soon.

  2. Hi Matt,

    Thanks very much for your really interesting comment. I think we're moving to a new paradigm and hopefully it's one where ordinary people as well as the big players, can receive proper income for their intellectual property.



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