Tuesday, September 05, 2006

"Free"-dom of Information

Another free paper has hit the streets as pay-for papers downsize, this time in London and courtesy of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.

In the future, will all newspapers be free?

The battle between News Corp.'s thelondonpaper and its competitor London Lite echoes that of Metro and amNewYork across the pond - and no surprise, since NY Metro launch editor Stafano Hatfield helms the new project. Now, I've criticized Murdoch for sticking to print before, but the fashionable freebie is the only news publication grossly bucking the trend of declining revenue/circulation/ad sales.

A BBC News article asks today, "Does this spell the end of the paid-for paper? Who will stump up 50p for a Sun, Guardian or Times when they can get their news, sport and a couple of cartoons for free?"

Maybe. But begrudgingly.

To preface, there is a large difference between a Times and a Metro, and it's simply impossible to compare. Metro readers glance, Times readers read. Free dailies distribute directly to the public transportation "hotspots" and are comprised of a slew of reprinted AP stories with some cobbled together editorial content. As a result, the masthead of a free daily is expectedly miniscule.

But there's no need to trash (no pun intended) free dailies: their influence is astrounding. They serve their function, and serve it well - better than most standard papers, even the big 3. So if not for the printed page, what will be pay for? Content?

How do we get news, anyway? For me, it's RSS feeds that, on their own, serve as my own "free daily" and the articles they link to that serve as my "full-content paper." Nary a printed page in sight. So information is what we pay for in this age, not the printed page. OK. On board there. But content will always be paid for by someone. Right now its mostly, but not completely, advertisers. The New York Times is learning how to balance this seesaw as its own writers refuse to go behind the TimesSelect wall. Newspapers face increased competition from those free sources - you guessed it, blogs and their ilk - so maybe advertisers will carry 100% of the load. After all, we're on a slippery slope of losing the printed page, aren't we?

Maybe the BBC should be more specific - will all newspapers be free? For the subscriber, probably. But certainly not for the newspaper.

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