Rupert Murdoch, the octogenarian chairman of News Corp., was at it again during a recent National Press Club interview at George Washington University — it being his routine bashing of news aggregators such as Google and Yahoo (although Google is typically the only one Murdoch mentions during his tirades), along with a call to arms for the newspaper industry, which Murdoch says must eventually embrace paywalls whether it wants to or not. Readers might not like them, the News Corp. founder said, but will wind up paying for the news “when they’ve got nowhere else to go.” The Murdoch-owned Times of London and Sunday Times are both expected to launch pay access in June. According to a number of reports about the interview, Murdoch said:
We are going to stop people like Google or Microsoft or whoever from taking stories for nothing…there is a law of copyright and they recognise it. They take [news content] for nothing. They have got this very clever business model.
He also said of the iPad:
I got a glimpse of the future last weekend with the Apple iPad. It is a wonderful thing. If you have less newspapers and more of these…it may well be the saving of the newspaper industry. It doesn’t destroy the traditional newspaper, it just comes in a different form.
But it is Murdoch’s comments about “having nowhere else to go” that are the most revealing when it comes to the aging newspaperman’s real agenda, because the reality is that News Corp. putting up paywalls at all of its newspapers isn’t going to really succeed unless everyone else does so as well. Ever since he decided not to remove the paywall at the Wall Street Journal — something he had hinted he might do before buying the paper — Murdoch has been trying desperately to get a bandwagon rolling on the issue, to get as many other major newspapers to join him in erecting paywalls.
Even if News Corp.’s strategy is more about shoring up the declining readership of the print product than about reaching new online readers, the fact is that Murdoch is going to have a hard time of it if he is the only one blocking off his content.
Then readers will have somewhere else to go — to his competitors, such as The Guardian, which has repeatedly argued against paywalls and has an entire content distribution strategy based on free access and an open API (application programming interface) that allows anyone to use the paper’s content. A bandwagon of one isn’t going to do much good, and Murdoch knows it — which is why whenever he’s handed a microphone he sings the same song.