A blog by Patrick Crozier

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June 21, 2002

The newspaper is dead

It's been coming for a while. We knew it would. Now we can hear the sound of distant drums.

Yes, the Times (that's the London Times) has started charging non-UK residents for the privilege of reading the on-line version. I found out when one of my regular US readers pointed out that she couldn't access an article I had linked to.

We on the internet and especially those of us in the Blogosphere have got used to papers being free on-line. Lord knows I try to do a review each and every day. It is a wonderful facility - for us, but I have always wondered whether it makes sense for the newspapers.

Even without the costs of printing and distribution, newspapers still cost money. The money for all those dodgy journalistic expense claims has to come from somewhere and since people like me abandoned real newspapers for their virtual equivalents there is rather less of it about Many moons ago - ooh must have been 2000 - people thought that on-line advertising would do the trick. Wrong. So now the newspapers are looking to their readers to make up the difference. For some time now large sections of the Economist have been subscriber only. And now the Times is following suit.

I have no principled objection to paying for content. What I would object to is having to subscribe to masses of different publications. It might work for some of the bigger publications but if it comes to a choice of fumbling for my credit card for that one article in Peruvian Railways Monthly then it's a non-starter.

What I would like to be able to do is to make ONE payment of, say, 20 a month and then be able to access everything. The payment would go to some sort of clearing house who would apportion the proceeds by hit rate. (I presume there would be some way of preventing fraudulent hits)

All this begs a question. Are traditional publications necessary in the on-line world? Newspapers exist (I presume) because it is not actually possible for one person to write the article, print it and distribute it to the millions of possible customers. There has to be some kind of division of labour. But the internet changes that. Now, publication and distribution are to all intents and purposes free. So, a large part of the raison d'etre of newspapers disappears. In the world I am describing it is perfectly possible to see a far more direct relationship between writer and reader, unmediated by newspapers.