In article entitled End of a free press, the Sunday Business Post report that Ireland’s (south) three main newspaper groups intend to charge for their web content (The Irish Times, Independent Newspapers and Thomas Crosbie Holdings). All three have concerns about RTE, as highlighted in detail in another article – Newspapers set to clash with RTE over web news
The issue is to be raised at government level, with newspaper owners saying that RTE should not be allowed to use taxpayers money to provide news for free in competition with commercial publishers.
The newspaper owners are coming together to attempt to prevent RTE from continuing to provide free-to-consume news online. Presumably they have no issue with RTE continuing to provide free-to-consume news on television (that would go down with voters like a real lead balloon). You have to admire their chutzpah, attacking RTE for providing the same service as they have done for the past 10 years – but taking issue with it only when they find it inconvenient.
Besides some brazen cheek, I think there are a number of flaws with this plan. First up, if RTE were prevented from providing a free-to-consume news service they need not be limited to providing a consumer paywall. They could scorn the direct-to-consumer market entirely and instead raise funds by syndicating their content to other Irish publishers (e.g. sites such as Daft.ie or Entertainent.ie could well pay for RTE’s news feed, but provide it in a free-to-consume format for their users). Second – while RTE may appear to be the biggest obstacle to enforcing a cartel like minimum price for news content, that ignores the potential for other commercial entities expanding their southern Irish online news coverage. e.g. UTV, TV3 or Newstalk Radio may take the opportunity to expand their web presence. Finally, it is entirely possible that many of eyeballs currently scanning MSM websites will search for more left-field alternatives benefiting blogsites such as Slugger (and increasing the importance of real-time information feeds such as Twitter as a source for stories).
Rather than deal directly with the problems dogging the online advertising industry head-on (e.g. a plethora of middle-men and agencies extracting a large portion of ad revenues) and facing up to issues about how to best to produce for the web (by merely putting the same for-print articles online and not thinking about holistic branding & content solutions), the newspaper industry appears to be running backwards away from their problems.