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Newspaper Publishers Hold Secret Confab On Charging For Web Content

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Two dozen newspaper publishers, including representatives from the New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT), Gannett (NYSE: GCI), E. W. Scripps, Advance Publications, McClatchy (NYSE: MNI) Company, Hearst Newspapers, MediaNews Group, the Associated Press, Philadelphia Media Holdings, Lee Enterprises (NYSE: LEE) and Freedom Communications, quietly attended the Newspaper Association of America’s annual meeting in Chicago today to discuss ways of charging readers for online content. The Atlantic’s James Warren has the agenda for the “Models to Monetize Content” conference. The event was organized by the Newspaper Association of America, though it was not listed on its website. The private discussion was first mentioned back in April by Alan D. Mutter on his Reflections of a Newsosaur. CORRECTION: Mutter did not write about yesterday’s NAA meeting in any way; his post referred to an earlier NAA gathering held in San Diego last April.

Warren, who oversaw the layoffs of 100 staffers at the Chicago Tribune last year as the paper’s managing editor, said that expects a large number of the publishers who attended to start charging for some online content because “they don’t know what else to do.” More after the jump

Despite an appearance by NAA’s CEO John Sturm a few weeks ago on The Colbert Report, the NAA has put forward a less public face in the past year. In addition to no longer packaging quarterly revenues last year, the NAA no longer publicizes its annual meeting, considering that most of the industry’s news has become routinely grim.

As for presentation, Warren noted that a few copyeditors could have been employed to avoid panel descriptions like the second session’s “Journalism Online: Presentation on proposed service to charge for access to newspaper content and to license that content that (sic) online aggregators.” Other topics included “Aggregating User Data” and “Fair Syndication Consortium/Attributor,” which looked at ways to track newspaper content across the web and get aggregators to pay up.

NiemanLabs: Why so hush-hush? Not because the newspaper executives are opposed to an open debate. It’s because they’re worried about possible antitrust violations. Alluding to a memo from NAA’s Sturm, NiemanLabs points out that an industry gathering to discuss setting up paywalls could have the appearance of an illegal cartel. Newspapers would like an antitrust exemption to build up paywalls across their sites and fashion some industry guidelines. NiemanLabs counts House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as a supporter, but the Obama administration is against it.

11 Responses to “Newspaper Publishers Hold Secret Confab On Charging For Web Content”

  1. walker

    good day
    I am walker by name , a pet doctor in central London .just want to place my advert on ur paper i will be happy if u can accept my request
    hope to hear from u soon


  2. David Rittenhouse

    It's been some time coming.

    Giving the away the product for free online is not a sustainable model for a commercial enterprise.

    As a reader, I hate to say it, but some form of pay-for-use is required.

    If it takes a secret squirrel society meeting for these companies to see that they all have to do it, then so be it.

    It's time for them to move towards serving and tracking…and away from printing and trucking.

  3. One reason we're in our gigantic mess is that too many people still believe in "free lunches". Well, someone somewhere has to make those lunches, and money or effort is part of that picture. Same with good content. I don't know about you, but I want good content from people that know what they're talking about, that have some expertise, and I'll pay for it if that means I get less twitter litter and all the other junk from all those self-proclaimed experts. I, for one, feel that publishers should be charging for their content. The latest bits of news may not be where they should focus their content efforts, but that they're debating the issue is a good thing. I hope they keep at it.


    It is obvious that online advertising is not working, thus they need to start charging folks. The internet, at some point, will not be free anymore.

  5. William Dodder

    Wow! The simple fact that these newspapers and their execs got together like this should have the FTC investigating every single one of the executives.

    Why are they hiding their behaviour?

    Pretty damn hypocritical dor an industry that cries foul when others do this sort of thing. No mercy for them.

    These jokers have other problems too: inept management, a shift in reader preference to other outlets, craigslist, and advertiser shift to online and tv.

    oh.. I quit getting my news from the newspaper 5 years ago..

  6. Warren Lee

    At a conference that I attended recently the keynote was delivered by the CEO of CNN. What was interesting to me was the strategic approach that organization is taking with reporters: they will accept news reports from anyone (iReports) and will print/publish them after verification. This puts breaking news at everyone's fingertips. So if I can get all the news literally as it happens, why then would I subscribe to a paper that delivers yesterday's news to me? The only reasons that I subscribe to my home town's news paper is for local news and events, which are subjects not, as yet, effectively covered online, and to have something to read on Sunday mornings in bed with my wife.

    With the proposed "pay for content" thoughts from the big news paper publishers, I have a question: Don't I already pay by having advertising (which usually lacks any relevance to me) interspersed with the content? So aren't the Publishers talking about taking two bites out of the pie? I think that this will have a negative effect on the User Experience. Why can't the publishers figure out a way to derive more income out of advertising by use of targeting, so there is more relevance to ME, specifically? They should use Behavioral Targeting, Click Tracking and user surveys to maximize the value of their real estate. The problem the news paper publishers will face by charging for content is that who is to say that one is better, and/or more relevant, then an other. If the big publishers go in that direction, I expect to see the big media brands whither and die as small start-ups offer a better, cheaper and more relevant product.

  7. Dan McKillen

    I noticed yesterday that my right front car tire needed a little air. I remembered this again on my way home, about ten miles from my house. I pulled into a gas station to fill my tire but they had an air machine that charges 75 cents for air. No way, I said to myself and pulled into another gas station 100 yards down the road. Same thing, 75 cents, same reaction, no way! Ten minutes later I pulled into my neighborhood gas station and filled my tire for free. The air has always been free at most gas stations. The ones that now charge money might not get the same traffic through their gas stations eliminating opportunities for other commerce.

    I can't help thinking about how this relates to the challenge newspapers face now. Put up a pay wall and just about every other publisher has to follow for it to be successful. If a few break from the pack and offer their content for free using an ad-supported model, readers will bypass the pay wall and go to the free content much like I pulled out of the gas station that was charging for air. Free may always be one click away. No easy solutions here.

  8. They could get unlimited antitrust protection and it still won't help.

    Their utility as a centralized gatekeeper for aggregating and distributing general information has been trumped by networked peer production. The general public has ubiquitous access to powerful communication tools.

  9. It's ashame that the newspaper industry still hasn't come to the obvious conclusion that technology is not their core asset. New businesses will spring up that will enable many publishers to focus on their core product – content. Publishing online (and maybe even print) will be handled by these companies, which will provide subscriptons for single content providers, multiple providers, content verticals within and across providers, and a la carte. Advertising will follow the local/national model as companies like IB have been doing for a long time now online- but also for print. These portals will ultimately handle all national content, and these former newspapers will provide mostly local content. National content will be dominated by AP, Reuters, etc.

    I'm just surprised I haven't seen this yet, and would have done it myself if I were more of an entrepeneur.