Monday, January 12, 2009

Let's Invent iTunes for News: New York Times, January 12, 2009

David Carr's article, "Let's Invent an iTune for News," New York Times, January 11, 2009, made my year -- and it's only January 12th!

It is refreshing to finally hear someone in the media, who writes about the media, making sense about the value of news content and the sea change that is required to preserve that value. Newspapers like the New York Times not only produce high value content, they are essential to a free and educated society. There is no way that tweets, blogs and stripped-down news aggregators could ever fill the gap. What news would they aggregate if the respected news sources disappeared? We would be a far poorer society without the likes of the New York Times and other metro dailies.

News articles are as valuable to a newspaper as songs are to an album. But unlike songs that one can buy through iTunes and similar services, newspapers have not organized themselves to sell articles. In fact, they go out of their way to give articles away. Newspapers think they are in the newspaper business just like music labels thought they were in the album business. In reality, newspapers are in the article business.

Just about every major online newspaper actively promotes free use and free distribution of articles, with no strings. It could be argued that the major daily newspapers actually created the cut-and-paste culture. Newspapers invented the thing that is killing them. It was the news industry that gave us the Print, Email, Save, and Share links on every article. These links tell readers, "Take our content, do what you want with it, it's free!" iCopyright has conducted usability studies of online news sites and the use of these links. We know this to be a fact.

Newspapers are to articles what P2P networks are to songs -- a mechanism to freely take, use and redistribute content as one sees fit. But unlike the songs on P2P networks, news articles can be taken with the implicit permission of the owners. To make matters worse, newspapers like the New York Times have helped to create a culture of "free use entitlement" that has negatively impacted B2B publishers, who were not so keen on letting users copy their content for free. We hear it all the time from users. "The New York Times lets me take their content. You should be grateful that I have taken and posted your content. Why are you asking me to pay for it?"

What is a good business model? Carr suggests iTunes for news. iTunes for news already exists! The publishers and editors just don't use it. The first thing that needs to happen is for the major news providers to stop thinking that their content has no value other than for advertiser-supported first publishing. A media company like The New York Times has the clout to lead the way to a viable and sustainable model.

The iTunes model has to be tweaked for news content. Users buy songs from iTunes because they have already heard the song and they want to play it over-and-over. Very few users are going to pay to read an article with no way of knowing if it is a good article, or one that interests them, anymore than a user is going to buy a song they have not heard. However, once the user has read the article (supported by first-use advertisement), the iTunes model kicks in to allow them to easily print, email, save, share, post, and republish for commercial (work) purposes, for a fee. The publishing industry would earn billions of dollars in new revenue with this model. As with music, the money is in the reuse of news, not the first use (view).

Keep preaching, David. God knows the newspaper industry needs a credible prophet right now.

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