Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Funny Pages

(On Rupert Murdoch, Google and the Apple iPad)

Jonathan Holmes, from the ABC's MediaWatch program, has written a nice little piece for The Drum. He addresses the fact that many in the newpaper industry, including Rupert Murdoch, are busy wetting themselves over the iPad.

Murdoch apparently thinks that the iPad and its competitors will be the saving of the newspaper industry. Why? Because they (the newspapers) will be able to sell apps that deliver the newspaper "experience", providing users with something that is more like the actual paper article than websites currently provide. And they are hoping this will resurrect the industry.

What Murdoch and co. do not seem to get is that there is an enormous contingent of news conusmers who just aren't interested in what they are planning on offering. Young people have become used to news for free. Why would they suddenly want to pay for it? When (and it is 'when', not 'if') the newspapers put their content behind pay-walls, those young people will simply look elsewhere - and there will be an elsewhere to look.

Even my generation, who grew up with newspapers, have become accustomed to using the web and aggregators to find the news. And in that, we have acquired something that the likes of Murdoch don't seem to understand - we decide what news we want.

Holmes correctly pinpoints this in his article: "...this isn't just the difference between paying and not paying. It's the difference between deciding on your own news agenda, or buying someone else's." And I for one, ain't buying. And I don't think I'll be alone.

Murdoch also made the news this week for re-iterating his threat to put a pay-wall around his online newspapers to keep Google and Microsoft out.

My reaction to this bit of non-news: good! With any luck, this bunker mentality will see him off completely.

The newspapers do not seem to understand that their old model ("we'll decide what you want to know about, write it up and bundle it up for you, and you can pay us for it") is no longer really viable, and will disappear at about the same time as my father's generation. So they need to do something different - if they can. It's difficult to say what that should be.

Comic book producers, on the other hand, will probably survive. Why? Tim Bray (now at Google, as it happens) nailed it: "the two things you do with comics are read them and trade them". [Link] And therein lies the difference between a comic book and a newspaper: no one lines the bottom of the budgie cage with a comic book.

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