"Quality journalism is not cheap," News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch said yesterday, after his company reported a $3.4 billion loss for the first half of the year. "The digital revolution has opened many new and inexpensive distribution channels but it has not made content free. We intend to charge for all our news websites." He anticipates this change will go into effect within the year, and that by next summer even his tabloid newspapers — which sell on newsstands for pennies — will be surrounded by pay walls. "I believe that if we're successful, we'll be followed fast by other media," he added. Yesterday, Financial Times editor Lionel Barber agreed with him, predicting that in the next twelve months many news sources will begin charging for content as a matter of course.
Of course, not everyone is so optimistic. "This idea sure as shit seems to have fail written all over it," writes Gawker, which is sure to profit from websites like PageSix.com going behind a firewall. Internet pundit Jeff Jarvis explains the flaws in more detail:
If you can charge for your content — if you are the FT or the Wall Street Journal, the only brands that do it successfully — and your readers can make money on your content, and pass the cost of it onto their employers I have nothing against it. But for most, pinning hopes for the survival of news on charging for it is not only futile but possibly suicidal. Charging for content brings marketing and customer-service costs. Online, it reduces audience and the advertising they justify. Putting content behind a wall cuts it off from search and links; they cut off your Googlejuice.
Even Murdoch acknowledges that he's setting himself up for a long stretch of "furious litigation" to ensure that stories and photographs aren't simply lifted and reproduced elsewhere. "We'll be asserting our copyright at every point," he said (that's a lot of points, from New York to London to Sydney). If there's one thing Murdoch is good at, though, it's a fight. As he struggles over the next year to put this massive plan into effect, we'll be eager to watch — not only because the results might change the way we and the rest of media do business, but because it's going to be entertaining as hell.