Newspaper publishers have “completely misunderstood the nature of the crisis facing them”.
That’s the view of technology researcher and author Arthur Goldstuck, MD of World Wide Worx, who says newspapers face the same bleak future as the music industry — many publishers and editors just haven’t figured it out yet.
And News Corp chief Rupert Murdoch’s recent threat to throw up pay walls around his publications’ websites is a “kneejerk response” that will inevitable backfire.
Goldstuck says it’s worrying that editors and journalists are lending support to Murdoch’s “crusade”.
Other than threatening to charge readers for access to his online content, Murdoch has also fired a salvo at Google, saying he may prevent world’s leading search engine from indexing News Corp content on its news aggregation service, Google News.
Murdoch is said to be in talks with Microsoft to do a deal involving Bing, the software company’s search engine. However, Bing has only 10% of the US search market (and an even smaller share worldwide).
Goldstuck believes Murdoch is missing the point. “Content has always been free in newspapers,” he says. “What you’ve paid for is the cost of the newsprint. Advertising has always paid for the content, so why should readers suddenly have to pay to read content online? You’re just denying your existing model, where advertising pays for content.”
The real problem facing the newspaper industry, Goldstuck says, is that revenues from online advertising are not yet sufficient to cover the losses that are being incurred in print. “That puts the newspaper industry in exactly the same boat as the music industry.”
Goldstuck says Murdoch is the “modern-day King Canute”. Canute, a Viking king who lived a thousand years ago, is reputed to have stood at the seashore and commanded the incoming tide to stop rising and not wet his feet. Of course, it didn’t stop, and Canute, defeated, hung up his crown.
Many SA newspapers editors are too blasé about the impact the Internet will have on their products, Goldstuck says. Because broadband isn’t cheap and Internet penetration is limited, SA papers have been shielded from the full effects of the Web.
“In SA, it’s not online [PC-based] readers who are going to kill newspapers. The future of news in this country is on the cellphone,” Goldstuck says.
“This will come as an even bigger shock to old-time publishing editors. If you need a different mindset to distribute online, you need a dramatically different mindset to do it via cellphone.
“On a website, you can keep readers engaged in a variety of activities, but on a cellphone screen, there is not much you can do to leverage readership, so it’s a huge challenge. It’s a challenge that has to be met, or newspaper publishers really are all going the way of the music industry.
“The news gathering model has to change. This doesn’t mean news gathering itself is passé. But the value you provide to your readers has to change. If you are providing commodity content, if you are running the same press releases and wire copy, you don’t have any chance of survival.” — Duncan McLeod, TechCentral