News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch has vowed to fix the "malfunctioning" business model for news within a year. His solution: charge for access to the content. (Techmeme)
It seems to work for the Wall Street Journal. I pay for an annual online subscription because I think that access to the Journal's content is worth the investment. Knowing that, Murdoch is contemplating that model for other news pubs. It's a good first step - but it falls short.
I'm willing to pay the Wall Street Journal because I know that's where I can find solid business news day after day. But am I willing to pay a monthly, quarterly or annual subscription fee to random newspapers around the globe on the chance that it will offer some news story that I'll want to read in the future? How many subscriptions am I realistically expected to manage?
The problem is that we've become segmented readers on the Web. We get our sports news from this site and our celebrity gossip news from that site. When something big happens in a small town somewhere in the midwest, I turn to the local-yokel news outlets for the on-the-scene update. But I'm certainly not going to pay to subscribe to that local-yokel newspaper just to get a one-time update.
This is where sites like Google News can come come into play.
Also see: Google to Congress: We can help news publishers - if they embrace opportunities
Why not hammer out some sort of revenue-sharing subscription model between aggregators and publishers that allows users to subscribe to as many pubs as they'd like - they pick and choose - for a monthly or annual fee? Variable pricing gives readers the ability to pay for as much news as they want, from the sources they trust and like. And services like PayPal or Google Checkout could let users cough up a few pennies to read something from a publication that they don't subscribe to.
In the meantime, local pubs should focus on the content, investing in journalists who can get to the heart of issues that matter most to your community - crime, schools, local businesses, high school sports or maybe even a major industry.
For years, the San Jose Mercury News covered technology like no other newspaper. But it was just covering the news in its own backyard - just like it covered crime, schools, city hall and high school sports. It's been said in the newspaper industry many times: "Fix Local News - or Die!"
If there's going to be a shift to a pay-for-news model on the Web, newspaper publishers might as well let someone who has direct access to millions of readers (and has basically been doing it already) spread some headlines and links for them.
I keep saying that there's value in news - and I believe there are plenty of us out there who would be willing to pay for top-notch journalism but not while its being given away for free. If newspapers - I mean news outlets - have any chance at survival in a digital age, they should start thinking about joining forces with aggregators like Google, not fighting them.
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