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The future of newspapers

Zafar Anjum | Dec. 4, 2009
Falling revenues, increasing user demand for free online content, and Googles misappropriation of stories on the Web threaten the survival of newspapers in the digital age. Is Googles First Click Free programme part of the answer?

Being in the media industry Im often asked if we have figured out our media strategy. Well, to be honest, being a journalist, I am not directly involved in the digital strategy of the media company I work for. Its my publisher and our marketing team who have to square up to the challenge of the digital age: how to monetise content for a readership that wants full access to all our content free of charge?

But to answer the question, I am tempted to bring in media baron Rupert Murdoch into the picture. Even a man as astute as Murdoch is still in the process of figuring out the media strategy in the digital age.

Murdoch accuses Google of 'theft'

Murdoch, arguably the most innovative publisher and media company owner of our time, recently accused Google of content rustling (Google calls it fair use when it displays news headlines from newspapers all over the world in its Google search results). Google, like many other aggregation sites, gathers headlines on its search engine, usually without paying news organisations for their content.

During a Washington forum on newspapers on Tuesday (1 Dec), Murdoch said the almost wholesale misappropriation of our stories is not fair use. To be impolite, it's theft. In fact, the accusation is not new. He has been raising his voice against Google for some time now.

But this time, the media mogul is taking the battle against Google one step further. According to a report in the LA Times, Murdoch could scare Google into paying, or else lose a huge chunk of his audience. The Australian magnate is searching for ways to stem the haemorrhaging, perhaps by forming a newspaper consortiumsuch publishers as the New York Times Co., Washington Post Co., Hearst Corp., and Tribune Co. have already been approachedto charge for distribution online and to portable readers. News Corp. is also reportedly in talks with Microsoft, which would pay News Corp. to prevent articles from being listed in Google, providing their content instead to Microsoft search engine Bing.

Study: Most won't pay for newspaper, magazine content online

But not everyone would agree with Murdochs approach. The criticism against him has come from people like Seth Godin to Arriana Huffington. Rupert Murdoch has it backwards, said Godin, the marketing guru in his blog. You don't charge the search engines to send people to articles on your site, you pay them, he wrote. If you can't make money from attention, you should do something else for a living. Charging money for attention gets you neither money nor attention.

Godins suggestion is vindicated by the fact that, as a recent Forrester study says, 80 per cent of US consumers would rather skip a news article online if it's not free.


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