Friday, May 08, 2009

Dying Newspapers in the US of A

I keep myself abreast of world affairs - by reading many newspapers. The New York Times, The Hindu, The Times of India and the Telegraph (UK) to name a few. If I'm in a foul mood, I get some comic relief reading the garbage in the WSJ editorial pages. But I don't purchase these; I just go to their websites.

If I need the funnies, I look at the Pearls before Swine page in I follow the Huffington post and I see Drudge often (if I want to know how the right wing is spinning things). I laugh at Glenn Beck's antics ( which are often ridiculed on Huffington Post). For quick breaking news, I use google news and For news pertaining to India, I check out NDTV and The Hindu.

A common theme among all these is that I don't like to pay for information. I am a free rider. Since information is available for free, I would have to be absolutely irrational actually pay for these. But this tendency (which seems to be the way with most people these days), is actually posing an existential problem for newspapers.

More people are reading the New York Times than they ever were, mostly on the internet. Not many are buying it. Advertising revenues do not seem to be enough to justify their costs. Every passing day, it is becoming more and more evident that the business model of the newspaper business is fatally flawed. Soon shall come a time when the New York Times will not be able to afford correspondents in far flung places.

And this will be a sad day for Journalism. The New York times is a remarkable institution. It is, in my opinion one of the US' most reliable newspapers. A change in the NY Times will change the world as we know it - for the worse. The times is a liberal bulwark in the US - a reasonable, moral counter to Murdoch's garbage.

I would not mind paying for newspapers if I had to. But a subscription based model for the newspapers on the internet is a non-starter. If the NY Times charges money, some devotees will purchase subscriptions; but most people will just move on and start frequenting other websites. Factual reporting will take a hit (except in the TV).

Another issue is that if I buy a subscription to NYTimes and not to Washington Post, and one of the blogs on links to Washington Post, I will not be able to access that information. The internet surfing experience will cetainly deteriorate.

Two options come top mind here:

1. Newspapers adopt a cable-tv type model, where you purchase a 'news package' from your internet service provider. Let's say $30 a month, which gives you access to all sites that get their cut from the internet service provider / package provider. This ensures that links are not broken.

2. Perhaps newspapers ought to be allowed to have stakes in TV channels (like Murdoch has been allowed to). Maybe if the NY Times merged with MSN or someithing, perhaps their online presence could become more profitable (by sharing resources). This will result in a contraction in the industry - but at least the most important players (the fact-gatherers) will not collapse.

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