Dec 15, 2008

The trouble with free (redux)

Setting aside such questions as, 'Should journalism become a web of interlinking updates?', "Should we change the definition of journalist?', and 'Are editors an arrogant and unnecessary appendage that need to be surgically removed?', what's eating the bottom out of newspapers' bottom lines?

James Surowiecki, economics writer for the New Yorker, agrees with David Simon, former Baltimore Sun reporter and creator of "The Wire," that newspapers (and other forms of media that compete with themselves online) cannot hope to survive financially as long as they give away the news for free.

From Surowiecki's blog post:
Usually, when an industry runs into the kind of trouble that Levitt was talking about, it’s because people are abandoning its products. But people don’t use the Times less than they did a decade ago. They use it more. The difference is that today they don’t have to pay for it. The real problem for newspapers, in other words, isn’t the Internet; it’s us. We want access to everything, we want it now, and we want it for free. That’s a consumer’s dream, but eventually it’s going to collide with reality: if newspapers’ profits vanish, so will their product.


For a while now, readers have had the best of both worlds: all the benefits of the old, high-profit regime—intensive reporting, experienced editors, and so on—and the low costs of the new one. But that situation can’t last. Soon enough, we’re going to start getting what we pay for, and we may find out just how little that is.
I've argued before that giving away the news for free affects more than profit. It diminishes the value of news - and of newsrooms - in the minds of both the reader and the owner; and, to some extent, in the mind of the reporter.

*UPDATE: Brian Till indicts himself as a media murderer in a column in the Las Vegas Sun (via Romenesko).

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