Free means never having to say you’re sorry

by Mathew on September 19, 2007 · 1 comment

Not surprisingly, the decision by the New York Times to tear down its pay wall has fueled speculation that Rupert Murdoch will do the same thing with the Wall Street Journal — speculation that has been around for awhile now, primarily because ol’ Rupe keeps talking about it (of course, knowing Murdoch, that’s probably just a way of keeping the media writing about him).

I’ve written about this before, after the Australian billionaire took over the Journal, and I hope by now I’ve made it clear that I think free makes the most sense not just for the Times or the Journal but for virtually every newspaper including the one I work for. There are those — like former journalists Mark Potts at Recovering Journalist and Dorian Benkoil at Corante who disagree, and think that subscription is a model that works, but they are wrong.

I should clarify that. They are right in the short term, but wrong in the long term. As the Times has admitted, charging people for content created a subscription business that made money, but one that wasn’t growing very much (if at all). I’m not privy to the numbers at the Globe and Mail, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we have seen a similar pattern. Steve Boriss argues that this could be because the NYT did it wrong, but I’m not convinced.

Scott Rosenberg of Salon, among others, has written about the difficulties of financing a large newsroom through online revenues only, and that is definitely a concern. But I believe — as Jay Rosen and other smart people do — that being part of the online ecosystem (which includes permanent links to archived stories) is going to be a lot more valuable in the long run than charging people a nickel or two to read the paper online every day.

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