Rupert Murdoch to Internet users: Pay up

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Today’s Wall Street Journal gave short shrift to a news-making pronouncement by its own corporate chieftain, News Corp. Chief Executive Officer Rupert Murdoch. Buried on page B5 was a four-paragraph brief on Murdoch’s revelation that News Corp. was ‘investing in a mobile device for reading newspapers.’ He’s not the first newspaper executive to dream of an e-reader, but he may be the one best positioned to make it work. Most of his customers, after all, can deduct the cost of their subscriptions as a business expense, so they’re less likely to balk at the high price tag of a Kindle-like device. And the Journal’s reporting on business and financial news is uniquely suited for real-time electronic delivery.

More interesting to me, though, was this quote from Murdoch (speaking at an unspecified ‘gathering in Washington,’ which might have been the annual cable TV convention, or maybe just lunch with the Journal’s Washington, D.C. bureau): ‘People are used to reading everything on the net for free, and that’s going to have to change.’ Murdoch also suggested that newspapers should stop letting Google and other news aggregators republish excerpts of their articles for free.


Purely from a competitive standpoint, I would love to see the Journal deny aggregators access to its stories unless they paid fees. I can’t imagine Google or its competitors agreeing to share their ad revenue, even for content as popular as the Journal’s. There are just too many other, free sources of every type of news. They may not be as good, but that doesn’t seem to matter online. The challenge for Murdoch and other publishers isn’t that people expect content online to be free, although plenty of people do; it’s that new competitors are finding ways to build profitable businesses by delivering valuable content for free. Anyone who tries to charge for content or make it more scarce will be playing into the hands of those who don’t. Doesn’t Murdoch talk to Jason Kilar at Hulu? I mean, News Corp. is one of the founders... (And that’s Kilar, not Klar, as this post originally stated.)

By the way, you can’t read the Journal’s story about Murdoch online unless you pony up $103 for an annual online subscription. (Hello, micropayments?) If you’re already a subscriber, here’s the link.

-- Jon Healey

Healey writes editorials for The Times’ Opinion Manufacturing Division.