Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Enclosing the Digital Commons
The $30 million tablet-only publication The Daily, whose launch has been postponed a few days from the scheduled date of January 19 while subscription software details are sorted, is being sold as the possible saviour of mainstream media journalism after more than a decade of decline.
The final pricing model has yet to be confirmed. Some reports say Murdoch will charge $1 a week for a downloadable app. Others say the plan is to charge a $1 a day after a two-week trial period. Whatever the final pricing model, there is much scepticism about whether this venture will pay for itself.
Once again, the big questions is why, beyond the area of specialist financial information, anyone would pay $300 a year or more for content that is freely available elsewhere. And bear in mind that this content, in addition to the subscription prices, will be surrounded by advertising.
While much is being made of the calibre of the 150 or so staff people being hired - from The New Yorker, New York Times and The Atlantic (the exact ratio of editorial to non-editorial staff is not clear) - it still is arguable whether general news opinion and fancy graphics will be enough to swing it for enough consumers to make this a viable proposition. One sceptic says The Daily would have to generate more than 10 times the subscription of the most popular magazine on Apple's app store to get close to making a profit.
Consider, also, other disincentives of a tablet-only paper. By all accounts, there will be no hyperlinks in The Daily, which will severely limit its interactivity and usability to a generation of people who use the news as a stepping off point to source material, blogs and other online discussions. But it will also curtail the capacity of The Daily to be linked to, which means it will be largely invisible other than to its paid subscribers.
Of course, Murdoch and Jobs are counting on something else. They are hoping that after years of giving content away for little or no return, other publishers will follow the News-Apple lead and move their own content away from web browsers and onto tablets. This is akin to what has happened with digital music over the past decade, with the peer-to-peer providers (Napster, Morpheus, Limewire) gradually litigated out of existence and leaving the paid Apple enclosure as the only reliable way of getting music online.
But even if the likes of The New York Times and The Guardian and, here in Australia, Fairfax's metropolitan newspapers became tablet-only publications, there are still the public broadcasters like the BBC and ABC offering free digital content. And this is why we can expect the Murdoch empire to step up its rhetoric against the "state subsidy" of public broadcasting.
The argument will go that governments are unnecessarily regulating the media by allowing public broadcasters to compete with commercial media enterprises and that it should be left to "the market" to decide. The notion of a public sphere independent of commercial imperatives will be completely overlooked, of course.
The next step will be for governments to cut the budgets of public broadcasters under the umbrella of the new fiscal rectitude being urged upon western governments in the wake of the global financial crisis. This should keep Murdoch happy and accelerate the development of the enclosure of the digital commons.
UPDATE: See 'The Newsonomics of Mr Murdoch's The Daily' - from Neiman Journalism Lab
Posted by Mr D at 2:04 PM