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Black and white and almost over

Though they’re read more than ever,newspapers are foundering because they’re just giving it away for free on the Web.

Published: February 18, 2009 11:17 pm

Micro management

Yes: Though they’re read more than ever,newspapers are foundering because they’re just giving it away for free on the Web. Time magazine vet Walter Isaacson suggests a micropayment method — like iTunes or a subway pass,‘a newspaper might decide to charge a nickel for an article or a dime for that day’s full edition or $2 for a month’s worth of Web access’

No: In an NYT op-ed,Michael Kinsley disagrees with the news-by-the-slice theory,first pointing out that even if those who buy the paper spend 2 dollars buying it online,that is a measly amount,much smaller than even current ad revenues. He guesses that The New York Times,The Washington Post and other big name papers will survive the recession,and that competition will dictate the shrunken print media landscape. As Chris Anderson of Wired has pointed out,“the huge psychological gap between “almost zero” and “zero” is why micropayments failed.”

Foundation logic

Yes: Yale University’s investment brains David Swensen and Michael Schmidt argued for a non-profit model bankrolled by endowments,much like private universities in the US,which would enhance autonomy and protect them from economic and technological churn. Like educational and literary organisations devoted to the “promotion of social welfare,” they would be tax-exempt and their benefactors would be eligible for tax deductions too. The New Yorker’s Steve Coll did the math and shared his enthusiasm for the plan.

No: Jack Schafer at Slate fiercely refuses ‘alms for the press’,asking why enough paying customers can’t be found to support these news-gathering institutions if they are so vital to our “democratic constitutional system”? Who would you yell at if a foundation-funded newspaper disappointed you,and how would you prevent newspapers from becoming bland,do-gooding pamphlets,if insulated from the market realities which sustained and shaped them?

Make Google pay

Yes: “No one delivers more of that (newspaper and magazine) content online than Google does,through its search functions supported by advertising,the revenue from which goes to its bottom line”,says Peter Osnos on The Daily Beast. Getting Google to share with content creators would be big help,and would offset fears about its outsized power.

No: Google isn’t your sugar daddy,saus GigaOm blogger Matthew Ingram. The only logic in that suggestion is ‘Newspapers are desperate for funds,and Google has boatloads of money’,because unlike with books,Google merely points to already free digital content,which newspapers are free to block if they choose. Ergo,Google owes exactly nothing to newspapers.

Gang up to survive

Yes: Tim Rutten in a Los Angeles Times op-ed,calls for desperate measures,suggesting an anti-trust exemption that would allow the industry to “sit down and negotiate an agreement on how to scale prices and,then,to begin imposing them simultaneously”.

No: “But they don’t own the news anymore. There’s always somebody else — a TV station,a foreign outlet,and,yes,a blogger — who can compete. See: New Century Network. That life preserver is leaky.” says media analyst Jeff Jarvis.

Do something,anything

Meanwhile in France,Sarkozy’s opted for an unconventional bailout — eighteen year olds will be given a free year-long subscription to a newspaper of their choice. Another interesting European experiment is a Swiss German collaboration,producing a personalised newspaper — pick and choose news sources,and get the printed version delivered at your doorstep.

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