Can Papers End the Free Ride Online? I had an experience with something like this a few weeks ago visiting my parents. Someone suggested that the Canadian papers were smart to charge for access, as they mostly do now. We discussed this for a little bit, but didn’t take the discussion very far.
The next day we were looking for info on something in the news. “To Google,” I said, “we’ll find the answer there for sure.” And we typed in a couple words and got our answer. Of course there were no results from barricaded news sites – and the value of open archives was made clear.
Newspapers have been losing readership for years, and no one has ever proven a correlation between declining readership and open archives. If I were a shareholder in a media company, I would demand that the company demonstrate the correlation and if it were not proven, ask that the company fulfill its public service mandate to contribute to the civic life of the city, province, and country.
Each newspaper has been losing readership in its own way. As stated in the article, the NYTimes high was in 1993. In the suceeding 12 years they’ve only lost 5% of that readership, while adding another (approx) 100% on line.
From my seat, I don’t mind charging for archives. I don’t like the news of that day being behind a wall. Archives have never been “free.” Before the internet you had to have a library card, etc. While it might not have cost cash, it did cost, time, energy, etc.
This is the line that worries me most: “The New York Times on the Web… has been considering charging for years and is expected to make an announcement soon about its plans.”
I think they have it exactly backwards. as one of the analysts seemed to indicate. I think they should charge for stuff published in the last couple of days, but older stuff (fishwrap) should be free.
I think there is a “public utility” mission of newspapers that is entirely compatible with the best commercial decisionmaking – it’s just going to take a visionary to make it happen.