In light of the announcement by the NY Times over the weekend that they intend to begin charging some sort of fee for part of their content the debate as to whether online media can continue to give away ‘free’ content has once again gotten underway. No more relevant was this debate than in the comments section of the NY Mag where we in fact first gleaned attention of the NY Times intention. Ultimately no matter how much you spend time on the web canvassing online media the question of whether online media entities should charge for content is a very important one as it hints at what type of journalism will exist going forward, the content that we get to read and more importantly whether the web eventually morphs into a type of cable channel system where only the few can pay and will even want to pay…
What set the ball rolling Sunday morning on the ‘blogosphere’ was the reporting by NY Mag that the NY Times had reached a decision and would begin to charge for their content in lieu of decreasing ad revenue and in a way to curtail the practice of giving away media for free. To be sure the NY Times is not for one minute giving away its content for free. It reaps huge revenues, admittedly not as much as what it once attracted before the economic meltdown and as such the model holds the more clicks to its site the more advertising revenue that is accrued. What the NY Times is seeking to do which Rupert Murdoch has tried to do with the Financial Times and the Wall St Journal is to extrapolate extra revenues.
If truth be told the cost of printing, physical publishing and distribution has disappeared and if that once justified charging for the cost of collecting news and disseminating it to the public- then we were all willing to pay for the physical magazine in our hands. The only real charge that remains is that of labor and since most journalists are offered a salary at most established media venues then the argument that we need to charge subscription rates to pay journalists falls by the wayside. The truth may be that our collective tastes of what makes for news worthy items and consumption of such items has changed so much that no real answer exists as to how media entities should continue to exist in a declining advertising revenue market.
At the center of the conundrum is the idea that the Internet has made the gathering and dissemination of news much more widely accessible and verifiable. At no stage was it even intended that content provided on the web should be charged and that was its appeal. It suddenly made us a seemingly more democratic society with more news and sources in which to canvass thoughts and ideas. And we loved it. Who also loved it were forward progressive burgeoning media entities who were able to suddenly enter the publishing world without having to first come up with a billion dollars to pay for printing, distribution and other heavy capital incidentals that established media had a leg up on. This necessitated a type of reporting that was more geared to hyperbole, commentary and conjecture (after all we can all offer opinions but not all of us can send a journalist to cover a sudden war in Iraq). All you needed to do was to eventually build a following and a consistent click through window and you could approach suitable advertisers and sell them ad space.