I am trying to decide if this story, this kind of threat—albeit an indirect one—is the sort of thing that can be taken seriously. Eric Pfanner in today’s New York Times:
Leading European newspaper and magazine publishers on Thursday called on the European Commission to strengthen copyright protection as a way to lay the groundwork for new ways to generate revenue online.
The publishers said widespread use of their work by online news aggregators and other Web sites was undermining their efforts to develop an online business models at a time when readers and advertisers are defecting from newspapers and magazines.
This is just talk, of course--asking an official to look into something. But there is an existing technology that purports to be able to track down copyrighted material on the Web, and thus help publishers should they choose to follow through on this. It’s called Attributor, and it made a presentation at a sorta-secret early-June gathering of newspaper publishers.
One plausible argument against charging for content online is a demand-side argument: there is no demand from the consumer for such a thing; therefore this is a wacky and certain to fail idea. But maybe—maybe—there is something to what I’ll call the Barry Diller argument, which is, ‘yes, we need money to survive, and yes, you, the consumer, are going to pay. Something. Somehow.’
As I said before, I’m not confident that simply stating this (and acting upon it) works, or matters. But it’s looking pretty certain that we’re going to see a bunch of real-life test-cases of this reasoning this Fall. Bear in mind this important fact: “paying for content online” does not mean “all information is inaccessible unless you pay a fee,” it more likely means “various tiered subscription products will exist.”
Elsewhere: Steve Brill sends (sans prior solicitation) to Gawker, of all places, one of the fuller explanations I’ve yet seen on how his content-charging startup Journalism Online might work. As this column implies, I find a competing company called ViewPass a more interesting notion right now, mostly because it takes the ad-side of the online revenue equation into account to a greater degree than Journalism Online.
But, well, check out Brill’s argument and see for yourself.
(Obligatory Brill disclosure: in 1998, after witnessing a younger Jon Fine put in six weeks of undistinguished work during the start-up phase of his ill-fated Brill’s Content magazine, Brill correctly observed that I’d be better off seeking employment elsewhere.)