As newspapers shift from print to online, they’re discovering that the Internet doesn’t generate enough money to pay the bills — that after a decade of posting news stories online, Internet operations only account for 5 percent of a typical newspaper’s overall revenue. Meanwhile, sites like Drudge and Google News are linking to the content of newspapers for free.
Chron columnist David Lazarus (left) says in today’s edition that newspapers should consider charging people to read their stories. But he says it won’t work if some papers still offer stories for free. So he says it’s time papers “come together and unite in saying that the era of the free online lunch is over.” To avoid legal problems, Lazarus says newspapers should ask Congress for an exemption from anti-trust laws to allow them to work together to charge for content. “Put simply, we need to charge a fair price for our products, and we need to do so together.”
Lazarus’s column reminds us of a proposal California First Amendment Coalition executive director Peter Scheer (right) made last November:
- “Newspapers and wire services need to figure out a way, without running afoul of antitrust laws, to agree to embargo their news content from the free Internet for a brief period — say, 24 hours — after it is made available to paying customers. The point is not to remove content from the Internet, but to delay its free release in that venue. “A temporary embargo, by depriving the Internet of free, trustworthy news in real-time, would, I believe, quickly establish the true value of that information. Imagine the major Web portals — Yahoo, Google, AOL and MSN — with nothing to offer in the category of news except out of date articles from “mainstream” media and blogosphere musings on yesterday’s news.”
Scheer, an attorney, even offered a way to avoid antitrust issues. “[I]t needs to be clear that the newspapers are not acting as a cartel, but as a standard-setting body agreeing on a common standard for the timing of release of copyrighted content to the free Internet.”