Journalism academic Terry Flew blogs about a recent paper by a UK colleague:
Recently published on Open Democracy has been an influential paper by Angela Phillips on “The Future of Journalism“. The paper was presented at the Media, Power and Revolution: Making the 21st Century, held in London and hosted by the Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Trust.
There are certainly valid points that Phillips makes. The point that the much talked about “crisis of journalism” is actually a crisis of traditional news business models, at a time which in other respects is an exciting one for journalism, is well made. Similarly, the limits to the Huffington Post-type business model, where more and more content is aggregated, and drawn from as many non-paid sources as possible, are timely and important.
The question remains of, as Phillips puts it:
Journalism, done well, is an expensive business and it has to be paid for. The question is not whether it should be paid for but how.
The problem is that Phillips’ answer enters into the realms of conspiracy theory. …
Maybe the real reason why we cannot have a simple payments system, that doesn’t require complex and off-putting log-ins, is because that would prevent the big players from getting their hands on all that private data. It is in the interests of big players to keep small players out of the game and they are doing it by telling us that information wants to be free.
Flew observes that there are no technological barriers to media organisations implementing anonymous micro-payment systems allowing casual readers to access and download individual articles for (say) a few cents. I can’t help wondering why someone hasn’t tried it. Or have they? Do Troppo readers know of any examples? Examining my own reactions, there’s no way in the world I’m going to pay a few dollars a week to Rupert Murdoch for an online subscription to The Australian, but I would certainly click to access individual articles that interested me at (say) 5-10 cents a pop. My gut feeling is that I’d probably spend on average $1-1.50 per week by such a system, which is less than Rupert charges for a subscription but $1-1.50 more than he receives from me now.
In more rarefied fields casual access “micropayments” seem to be getting more common. For example, I noticed only a few days ago that the Alternative Law Journal offers a casual individual article purchase option. However at $8.80 per article they’re not really “micropayments” except perhaps from the standpoint of a highly paid QC. I can’t help wondering how carefully the Alternative Law Journal has actually thought through this initiative. The main consumers of journal articles are academics and university students. Neither group is likely to pay for casual access because we can get it for free anyway through our university’s subscription to the journal or by inter-library loan. For the small number of casual browsers who come across an article and decide they’d like to read it, a price of $8.80 will almost certainly serve as a complete deterrent. It doesn’t make any obvious sense given that the marginal cost of allowing articles to be downloaded is zero and the extra revenue is money they otherwise simply won’t receive. Fifty cents or a dollar, or two dollars at most would surely be much more sensible.
As for News and Fairfax, I have no idea why they don’t try a casual download micropayments option. Anyone want to venture an explanation?