Tag Archives: Rupert Murdoch

Freedom of the press (to charge you)

Rupert Murdoch did it. He pushed the big, red button. After months, maybe years of holding his trembling, anxious hand over it (the button’s pretty darn big) he shooed his butler out of the room, wiped his furrowed brow of the pooling sweat and pressed downward. Flashing lights popped out of the walls, and the signal was immediately sent to Fox’s Internet Golems to push the giant online switch from “Free” to “Not so much.”

Well, they're technically Morlocks, but Golem is currently the PC term. Don't ask me, ask their union.

Well, they're technically Morlocks, but Golem is currently the PC term. Don't ask me, ask their union.

So we now know for sure, that by the end of the fiscal year (aka next June) that all online content coming from Fox subsidiaries will have a handy little price tag attached to it. This makes them the first big player in the post Web 2.0 world to revert back to the limited-access viewpoint, because after all, as Murdoch has made clear, quality journalism doesn’t come cheap (apparently neither does FOXNews’ coverage). The question at hand is whether or not this venture will be successful or blow up in Murdoch’s face, as most Internet fanboys tend to think it will.

Fox ‘n Fans

On one hand, FOXNews has a very different audience and delivery method from the likes of say, CNN or the New York Times. While CNN presents news and then at least markets itself as leaving said news as it is, marketing itself as a presenter of facts and knowledge (though lately they seem to fancy themselves as a televised Twitter advertisement). FOXNews treats its audience differently. With its obvious ideological bend, it presents news and commentary simultaneously, the two contrasting ideas contorted around one another and presented to the viewer.

To some, this approach is entirely off-putting (though not to the brass at MSNBC…) but to those viewers who do enjoy FOXNews’ opinions, the coverage becomes conversational and personal. I personally think that no one tunes into FOXNews for the very latest, most indepth coverage, but instead to hear the opinions of their personalities, to see the anchors tear the left a new one.

Because of this, FOXNews fosters a community to a much greater degree than its competition. When was the last time you talked to someone who was passionate about CNN, who acted encouraged if you praised it or who reeled back and hissed if you sought to discredit it? FOXNews fans have these reactions, because it’s okay to be a fan of the network’s coverage, it’s built and marketed as such. While CNN advertises itself as “the number one name in news,” FOXNews lets communities build around its personalities.

This sort of loyalty might work in Murdoch’s favor in regard to this online plan. Since the network’s viewers already perceive the coverage to be a premium product, logic says that they would also have less of a problem paying extra for said product. Of course, this begs the question as to why anyone who loves FOXNews wouldn’t just watch it on the television, or pick through The New York Posts’ 10 pages of legitimate content at the newsstand and save themselves from online fees.

Those against the plan argue that it will limit the audience of Fox’s online content, thereby limiting both advertising and search engine access, which will then, in turn, further limit ad revenue. On an Internet landscape that’s becoming increasingly connected, Murdoch’s plan essentially creates a digitally gated community (now isn’t that appropriate?), but given the loyalty of his viewers, and his recent success in broadening the readership of The Wall Street Journal, this could work in his favor.

A profitable, vibrant, stagnant media

But, from a ideological standpoint, if the entire news media switches to this model, then you will not only have deep divides between party lines and political philosophies, but further divisions will emerge between news sources, which will only serve to further polarize the nation. I already have a subscription to The New York Times, and with that I receive unlimited access to their online content. Now let’s say the Times made that package marginally more expense, while the rest of the media instituted similar subscription plans. Of course I’m going to either stick with the Times, or with the news source that represents the best relationship between cost and quality. Remember that whole marketplace of ideas? Yeah, that gets tossed by the wayside.

Mmm, yes. As I have always said, "Let one's worldliness be born not from his press' freedom, but by the expanse of his coffers."

Mmm, yes. As I have always said, "Let one's worldliness be born not from the freedom of his press, but by the expanse of his coffers."

That is, unless, you had brilliant individuals who had subscriptions and then used said subscriptions to draw news out of the gated communities and then report on it through independent websites, which everyone who is used to paying nothing for online news would then turn to for information. This would, inevitably, lead to the old-school media magnates receiving even fewer ad dollars, and then perhaps being forced to open up to free models, which leaves us in this whole stinking mess all over again, just with a few more wrinkles and a heightened sense of cynicism.

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Raise your hand if you remember money

It’s a nice feeling when you trump a few media outlets on a story, isn’t it? Earlier this year, we reported on how much of a bust Youtube is turning out to be, from a financial standpoint, and now both the Independent and Gawker have reported on the same matter (though the $470 million loss we originaly reported has been toned down to $380 at most). This story has resurfaced around the same time as the record industry settled a long-standing feud with Internet radio and Google’s announcement of its jump into the operating systems market. What a wild time for all of the webaholics, no?

The feverish proponents of the web’s current lackadaisical stance toward copyright protection and apathetic attitude toward things such a money continue to scoff at claims that the current model is broken, it’s a seesaw that tilts perpetually toward the consumer. At first, the philosophy behind downloading materials online was to protest the unfairness of the corporate model, to lash out against the soulless corporations whose products just weren’t good enough for us to pay the full price for. Now that the potential revenues that could have been made if downloading hadn’t been as rampant are beginning to pile up, these same folks argue that it’s too late, the web is the way it is, changing it would destroy its entire purpose.

Here's the money folks could be making if the Internet worked a bit more evenly.

Here's the money folks could be making if the Internet worked a bit more evenly.

Aren’t we supposed to be in an information-based economy, anyways? Aren’t physical products and the sales thereof supposed to be obsolete, with newspapers tossed aside and propped up online and albums replaced by iTunes? I’m going to call shennanigans on the whole thing. The information economy, as wonderful as it sounds, as sleek, shiny and futuristic as it may appear, is going to topple. There’s simply nothing to support the continuation of the “pay for nothing” model. If Youtube, one of the most popular entities on the Internet, can’t come close to breaking even, what hope is there in advertising for the rest of us? Google has posted two straight quarterly sales losses. 90 percent of its revenue last year came from advertising, and the new Chrome OS is intended to solidify that advertising base.

But how does it do that? It’s going to be a huge hit for corporate use, since it’ll eliminate the need to pay for Windows OS as Chrome comes free, and since Chrome creates a dependency on Google, folks will be clicking on ads left and right. At least, that’s how the logic goes. But if it’s going to be mostly utilized by the corporate sector, who is going to click on those random ads next to the search results while on the job? Does anyone who has used the Internet for more than a month even click on them? Given that most of the applications Google has, whether it be Gmail, Google Docs, their RSS feed, etc can be gone through without even seeing a single piece of advertising, how will the cost of sending out a free OS be recouped…is the advertising that no one will see or care about going to really fill Google’s coffers?

There’s a reason no one talks about Facebook’s worth these days, why no one has bought it up with the same zeal that Rupert Murdoch grabbed Myspace (to decent success admittedly, with revenue in 2008 hitting upwards of $550 million and profits around $10 million). Where’s the money? What is it that Facebook offers people to make money off of? It’s a solid enough advertising tool, plenty of companies use it promote things, but much of that isn’t used by paying Facebook for those irritating ads on the sidebar. They create profiles, fanpages and the like, all of which cost nothing. It’s the same with Youtube, why pay for swaths of advertising when you can just hassle blogs to link to the Youtube clip itself?

Don’t get me wrong, I adore the Internet and it’s loose inner workings. But it just isn’t going to work. Companies, whether you like it or not, have to make money. When there’s a tangible product at hand, whether it be software, music or movies, what have you, they have every right to charge money for it and to aim at the people provide the means to plunder it (whether or not this is a good move from a PR standpoint is another matter entirely). If a guy shows up at a garage sale and pays for a few CDs and then hijacks your car, shouldn’t you be at least a bit miffed? Oh sure, perhaps leaving your car unlocked persuaded him to buy the CDs in the first place, but what’s the cost of such a move?

As for the contentious matter of what to do with treating news stories under copyright law (and the viewpoints of the loonies in the print industry), that’ll be written about shortly.

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Why get for free what you can pay for?

UPDATE
Not long after the post below came along, Amazon just announced a new model of the Kindle which will directly take aim at newspapers with a bigger, more cumbersome design. If there’s anything the American consumer wants, it’s large, award hunks of metal. Just look at the success of Transformers!

Alternative titles for the Kindle DX: "Kindle: Easily Stained" and "Kindle: What button do I press for Solitare?"

Alternative titles for the Kindle DX: "Kindle: Easily Stained" and "Kindle: What button do I press for Solitare?"

The Kindle DX (which I can only assume stands for Dudes! Extreme!) holds more information, has a bigger screen, yadda yadda technical stuff. The point is, folks are serious about kicking print to curb, and not just the folks refusing to buy it, but the folks producing it. As of now, only the New York Times, Boston Globe and Washington Post (although with the Post you don’t really need anything else) are available on the Kindle, and if the below rumors are true, it looks like it’ll stay that way.

Just wait. Remember the 8-track vs. cassette duels? Blu-ray vs. HD-DVD? Sega vs. Nintendo? We’re going to have another format war on our hands, which will be lovely. Not only will it change the face of reporting forever (and hopefully it’ll be a profitable change that doesn’t destroy objectivity, but good luck with that) but it’ll give the media something else to talk about.

Published this morning…

Rupert Murdoch emerged from his cave (and stayed outside for a bit, since he didn’t see his shadow) and is now drawing resources from his vast media empire, in particular The Wall Street Journal, The Times and The Sun, to create a new distribution method for news. Now, all of this comes from an annonymous source, so keep some reservations, but give the dire straits that journalism is in, it would make sense for one of the biggest media conglomerates around to try and institute a game-changing model.

Rumor has it that at the forefront of this model will be a new distribution device, a sort of bridge between print and the Internet. Now this will be sure to excite industry insiders, immediate speculation of a informative counterpart to the iPod and the Kindle is sure to arise, and it makes a good deal of sense. The costs of printing are immense, so if the news industry was able to create a piece of hardware that would perhaps use a subscription model to provide instantaneous news updates, there is perhaps quite a bit of money to be made.

As we all know, the Kindle is single-handedly saving the publishing industry from dangerous free-book cabals known as "Libraries."

As we all know, the Kindle is single-handedly saving the publishing industry from dangerous free-book cabals known as "Libraries."

But again, why would people want to do that? News is free on the Internet, and while there are some who would think that a magic electronic dohickey transporting news to them would be handy, the vast majority of people seem to be perfectly content breezing through CNN for a few minutes each day or just briefly scanning through Yahoo’s headlines.

The only way to revert to public to paying for news again is to create scarcity. Essentially, the news industry has to play the ace up its sleeve and perform blackmail. No more news unless you pay for it. Lock up the websites, emphasize subscriptions via the “Newsatron” (real name pending) and hope to the good lord above that customers value information enough to go along with this model and aren’t instead so put off that they abandon mainstream media sources. Which would, disasterously, make the likes of the bloggosphere the main sources of news. But, since 99 percent of news blogs just plunder their stories from mainstream media sources, blogs would be reduced to reporting outlandish heresay and rumor (much like Murdoc’s own FoxNews).

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