Notes from The Heart House

Brainy single-payer blog testing the waters on business, media, art and culture with the occasional critical theory slant.

On Fair Use: Sympathize with the Readers

On Sunday, Washington Post reporter Ian Shapira called out Gawker on its use of one of his articles, questioning at what point it became copyright infringement. Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard turned it into a quick case study.

Imagine for a moment that we had laws in place deeming Gawker’s use of the Washington Post article a copyright infringement, and so their post is never made. What would be the results of this scenario? Fewer people are informed, Gawker makes marginally less money; and there is no measurable increase of success at The Washington Post. So what’s the effect, except to deny the public?

For the most part, readers don’t care who wrote the articles they read and they don’t care where they read it. They like to think of news as objective; to emphasize copyrights on articles is, in effect, the same as reporters claiming ownership on information, and that really rubs readers the wrong way. Ian Shapira and the Washington Post do deserve compensation for their efforts; but a dialogue on copyrights doesn’t seem to be a truly productive way to get there. The business of journalism is a difficult one; easing off the ownership discussion and keeping the focus on ways to monetize will go a longer way with the public.

Filed under: News and Media, , , , , ,

Around the Web: The NY Times at $5 a Month

Earlier this month, the New York Times was reported to be considering charging $5 a month for access. I wrote about this before, and I continue to explore some of the intelligent ideas and responses in the blog community.

Business Insider: New York Times Considers Charging $5 Per Month For Access To NYT.com by Nicholas Carlson.

Mr. Carlson rightly notices the Wall Street Journal has a viable subscription model and suggests that the NY Times could benefit from the same. Furthermore, because it have a higher unique visitor count, it could be even more successful with it than the WSJ.

On the outset, the high count of unique visitors is a great observation and asset to the NY Times. But in my opinion, the WSJ has the distinction of being an investor rag; as it is a relatively inelastic product, it has more pricing power as well as a strong corporate customer base, making its sales justified as work expenses. The NY Times… not so much. I feel I can confidently say without any statistical research that, without the patronage of corporate dollars, WSJ subscriptions would have a significant drop. So if we assume that most of the success of WSJ’s model hinges on this tax-deductible status, any newspaper without the same advantage cannot necessarily duplicate their results.

As an aside, since joining Twitter and especially after reading Mr. Carlson’s article, I now understand that WSJ is not selling exclusive content but rather site navigation privileges. Given this hushed bit of information, would individuals still find it necessary to subscribe?

Nieman Labs: Dear New York Times: Please charge me more than $5 for your web site by Joshua Benton

Without saying so, Mr. Benton is making the case for a relationship between price and quality. Because the NY Times has a strong reputation for integrity and a high journalistic standard, he argues that it ought to charge more than the proposed $5. Not only that, in his opinion, it is irresponsible of the NY Times to charge what he considers too little, because all remaining newspapers with weaker branding must anchor their prices accordingly.

While I personally hold the NY Times in great esteem, I have to hold market forces in greater esteem. There are many services, products and professionals that knowingly deserve more compensation than they receive but will never get because at a higher price, interest wanes. That’s just economics. Mr. Benton speaks of an online subscription to the NY Times as an insular event; but free is compelling and there are so many other things in the world competing for dollars. Additionally, to put the already-struggling NY Times in a position of steward for the rest of the newspaper world is to put them in a conundrum. Until the NY Times figures out how much people are willing to pay, they can’t really set a sustainable price, let alone set a price guide for others.

In summary:

There are some basic principles that one learns from Warren Buffett; the one I am thinking of is, if you are in a business where your competitors are offering the same product (news) for free, it’s a bad business. I’m not saying the NY Times can never make money or that it shouldn’t, but rather that things aren’t as black and white as we would like it to be. No pun intended!

Filed under: Current Events, News and Media, , ,

About the Author

Stella Tran graduated in the Liberal Arts with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Grinnell College and developed her professional experience in knowledge discovery and new media technology at Yahoo! Inc. (Read more.)