A slice of pie for hungry publishers?


Welcome to the future. It’s the middle of the 21st Century and things have changed. Desperate for credible information, fact hungry citizens scour unreliable source after unreliable source online, trying to find some real news.
The major papers have closed down, or been absorbed into increasingly monolithic media groups. What we are told has never come from so few places, meaning bias can go unchallenged, and authenticity is difficult to confirm.
People loved it when The Telegraph became the first British paper to launch online. And when the rest joined, everyone thought ‘this can only be a good thing’. But then they stopped paying cover prices, while advertisers refused to buy as much space. Independent journalism died, and unfunded, untrained citizen reporters were incapable of filling the gap.
Thankfully it hasn’t got that far, yet. But the world needs to wake up to the nightmare it’s sleepwalking into. Choice and plurality of news is essential in a democracy, a point Apple and Google both seem to understand. The technology giants plan on allowing publishers to charge users for content- whether that’s a monthly subscription, single article access, or live video stream.
Naturally, scores of people have rather foolishly complained, and blindly chorused ‘the internet should be free’. And of course there’s plenty of room for open content. But professional journalism is online too, without the ability to generate enough revenue to cover its costs. If in 20 years there is half the foreign current affairs coverage of today we shouldn’t need to explain why it will be bad news.
It should also be noted that receiving the news for free is a very recent concept the public have got familiar with in a worryingly short space of time. Really this is about returning things to the status quo. So we welcome the proposals, though our favourite brand of computers seems to have been unnecessarily profit-minded about it.
By opting to sell via Apple’s App Store a publisher will lose a rather whopping 30 per cent of all takings to the host. In contrast, Google claims its paywall is not for profit, a fashionable statement made believable by the ten per cent surcharge it plans on handing to its clients.
This leads to more worries for those considering investing. Tablet technology is still in its infancy, and looks set to be dominated by the iPad as the forseeable future plays out. This means it could well be some time before the Android equivalents catch up enough to offer any real returns, but then once they do these will be markedly greater. Though healthier than a month ago, whichever way you look at it, this is still tough position to be in, proving that publishing and the simple life remain poles apart.