Stephen Glover: The press must stop this lunacy of giving content away for free

Not charging readers of online newspapers does seem barmy. It is damaging newsprint sales and depriving publishers of millions of pounds of revenue. Imagine a restaurant which charged customers the normal price for sitting down at a table while offering the same meals free of charge for people who came in at the back. That is the lunacy of the present situation.

Newspapers are weakening themselves editorially. Every reader who defects from newsprint to online brings in a fraction of the revenue since there is no cover price revenue online and only limited advertising revenue. Fresh online readers are worth very little. If the process of migration to the net continues, newspapers will end up with much smaller resources to spend on good journalism.

And, by the way, an online-only daily newspaper could not flourish on the web under any existing business model anyone has thought of. The Huffington Post and Tina Brown's Daily Beast have tiny editorial staffs compared to real newspapers, and it is difficult to see how they could ever be solidly profitable. For all the talk about the internet revolution, the fact is that the only proper newspapers on the net are those that spring out of newsprint.

So I am 100 per cent behind Rupert Murdoch, who said last week that he is intending to charge fees for access to part or all of his British online newspapers including The Times and The Sun. The trouble is he may not be able to do so. It is true that online readers will pay for specialised information not widely available elsewhere on the net. The Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times are two cases in point. But will online users pay to read about Liz Hurley's maunderings on sex and the countryside if they can access the same stuff on other websites for free?

For charging to work for publishers, it would have to apply across the board. That seems unlikely given the global and multifarious nature of the net. Some 70 per cent of the readership of the Mail Online and Guardian.co.uk is outside this country. Other British papers on the web have quite similar profiles. They are all in large measure competing internationally, and a charging regime would only thrive if dozens of outlets across the English-speaking world signed up to it. Could that ever happen?

On the domestic front there is the problem of the taxpayer-funded BBC Online, which will never charge. This is a newspaper on the net, drawing on the corporation's vast editorial resources at home and abroad, and carrying opinion pieces in the form of blogs. Will we pay for access to Rupert Murdoch's Times if we can read the BBC website for free, as well as numerous international alternatives?

Mr Murdoch may make a simple calculation. Though the online readership of The Times could easily fall by 90 per cent if he started charging, he might still make more money out of it than he does at present. But the decline in online readership is likely to be steeper as long as there are other outlets offering similar content without charging.

Maybe there is a way around the current lunacy. I certainly hope so. Until or unless someone works out how to monetise online readers in their existing numbers, newspapers will continue to weaken. Much as I would like to, I don't think charging is the big idea.

The Standard's marketing makes fools of its loyal readers

Today's relaunch of the London Evening Standard is quite an excitement. I hope its editor, Geordie Greig, and his staff do a better job than the paper's marketing department.

There are advertisements all over the capital expressing the paper's sorrow. It is "sorry" for losing touch, for "being complacent", for "being negative", for "being predictable", and "for taking you for granted". It might as well have said it is sorry for having ever existed.

This is a grotesque overreaction to its recent past, which was certainly no disgrace. It recklessly "trashes the brand". Readers of the Standard who have remained loyal may wonder why they paid 50p for a paper which its management now disowns. Incidentally, it is still largely staffed by the same journalists who produced this alleged shocker.

One journalist who served the old regime and writes for the Alexander Lebedev-owned paper is our friend Roy Greenslade. As a media commentator he has been asked for his view on the ads. I was surprised to hear him introduced on last Wednesday's Today programme as a professor of journalism without mention of his role as a Standard columnist.

Some papers would love to lose ‘only’ £10m a year

The Guardian and Media Guardian continue to have a field day at the expense of The Independent, with a fusillade of articles portraying it as a dysfunctional newspaper. Its losses, said to be around £10m a year, are constantly mentioned.

And yet last week it emerged that Times Newspapers, which publishes The Times and The Sunday Times, lost £51.3m in the year to 29 June 2008. Last Wednesday, Rupert Murdoch claimed that The Sunday Times is "still in profit, but only just so". This suggests The Times lost more than £51.3m. As the recession has deepened since last June, these losses will have increased.

Reputable authorities reckon The Guardian and its sister paper, The Observer, may be losing some £40m a year. The group's announcement last Thursday that it is planning to cut 50 editorial jobs by the end of the year was characteristically underplayed by Media Guardian.

Perhaps those boys should reread that passage in the Bible about motes and beams.

***

The plot of the film State Of Play has more holes than a colander, but I warmed to its romantic belief in the importance of newspapers, here represented by the fictitious "Washington Globe", in comparison with meretricious bloggers.

I felt something of the same vicarious pride when I picked up The Daily Telegraph last Friday, and read its revelations about ministers' financial shenanigans. One or two people have criticised the paper for paying for the information behind its exposure, and have alleged that some competitors declined to stump up.

Rubbish! This is the best thing the Telegraph has done for ages. Newspapers still count.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

£35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executive - OTE £37,000

£16000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The ideal candidate will want t...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer

£30 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL) i...

Guru Careers: Account Executive

£18 - 20k + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Executive is needed to join one...

Day In a Page

Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada