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Plus Report - By Thomas Baekdal - September 2012

Why do we Need Newspapers Again?

Your challenge is to become relevant in a world where people are their own editors. Where people control the news, and where *people decide* what should be protected and what shouldn't.

The very first article I read this week was one over at the Guardian, titled: "A ~£2-a-month levy on broadband could save our newspapers", in which they suggested:

Consumers won't pay for online news. But they are of course paying, now and for the foreseeable future, and in huge numbers, for the necessary broadband connections. A small levy on UK broadband providers ... no more than ~£2 a month on each subscriber's bill ... could be distributed to news providers in proportion to their UK online readership. This would solve the financial problems of quality newspapers, whose readers are not disappearing, but simply migrating online.

Here we go again...

It seems that every other week, some journalist or editor realizes how bad things are, and moves into the zone of despair and becomes incapable of thinking in any reasonable terms. It's the same when newspapers in Germany and France want to impose a tax on Google for linking to them.

What the newspapers don't seem to understand is that they no longer have a reason for existing by default. You don't deserve to survive just because you exists. You are no longer special. Accept that you have failed.

One way to see this quite clearly is just to read the comments on that Guardian article:

Terry Collmann: I've been a journalist for 38 years, and I have to tell you - this is a stupid idea. Why should the internet-using public have to pay for newspaper managements' failure to set up a workable economic model for the post-newsprint world? It's like advocating a tax on cars to subsidise horse-drawn hackney cabs and omnibuses. If newspapers can't make themselves pay, they don't deserve to survive. If there's a market for high-quality investigative journalism, then it will flourish. But keeping a model that is clearly failing limping along by taxing broadband users, most of whom won't be benefiting from what they are being forced to subsidise, will simply postpone the day when newspaper managements finally have to reform their businesses to take account of the digital age.
marksg: This has got to be one of the most stupidly selfish articles I've read for a long time. And, for the Guardian, that takes some doing. Why on earth should the customers of a successful business be forced to subsidise a failing and outdated one?

Oh... and I just love this one:

Nyder: So let's focus on the critical point. The newspapers are choosing to give their products away for nothing. The industry could erect paywalls in the morning should they so choose. They could even come up with industry-wide "passes" so that, for a monthly fee, a user could have unfettered access to all the major British newspapers. Look at "partial" paywalls, as are used in other newspapers. Provide premium and free access, there's another one. Unfortunately they are choosing not to do so; it's not quite a tragedy of the commons, but it's close. We have a situation where newspapers give away all their stories, then appear shocked at how this all-new business model is failing. It ain't no surprise, guys.

...and this one:

dougalc: The survival of newspapers is not an end in itself. Perhaps that model of generalised content has had its day.

And there are many, many others. These are not the words of highly skilled analysts. These are the words of the Guardian's regular readers.

What really pisses me off about this though, is the idea that print newspapers are more valuable than digital ones. When the Guardian suggests this, it's clear that the 'newspapers' they envision should be paid are also the same old newspapers with a legacy in print. As David wrote:

This would solve the financial problems of quality newspapers

Quality newspapers? Apparently this is only if you used to exist in print. What about this site? Would you consider my articles to be of 'quality'? And why then should I not be paid too?

The problem is that all these forms of subsidization only work if they are somehow limited to a small subset of print newspapers. If we started to think about 'everyone who produced quality journalism', the share each one would get would be minimal (and not sustainable).

This has nothing to do with saving quality journalism, because that's not where the money is being paid. This is everything about saving a group of newspapers that don't have the guts to ask people to pay for what they make, and realign their product with something that people perceive as worth paying for.

Let's debunk some of the fallacies of how newspapers think. We have already discussed quality, in which newspapers no longer have the monopoly... in fact, just look at the Daily Mail. You wouldn't exactly call that quality. Or what about Murdoch's papers? Is that quality?

I actually do consider the Guardian to be a quality newspaper, that was until they turned into a 'page view whore' over the paparazzi pictures of Kate's breasts (of which they have now published more than 60+ articles). Is that quality journalism?

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Thomas Baekdal

Founder, media analyst, author, and publisher. Follow on Twitter

"Thomas Baekdal is one of Scandinavia's most sought-after experts in the digitization of media companies. He has made ​​himself known for his analysis of how digitization has changed the way we consume media."
Swedish business magazine, Resumé


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