Monday, December 22, 2008

Saving the newspaper industry

Posted by Craig on 12/22/2008
Just about everybody in newspapers readily admits that the current business model isn't working, but few seem to have solutions.

A few alternative models are gaining steam in recent months, such as not-for-profit and crowd-funding, but they're tough to get going with Big Boys like Gannett and the Tribune Co. still running the show.

Then, there was this: Just a few hours ago, Stanford University professor and former New York Times foreign correspondent Joel Brinkley offered up a way out of this mess, with the current corporate structure in place, that just might work. It's at least something that really makes you go "Hmmm" and there hasn't been enough of that yet.

He outlined a really compelling argument in a San Francisco Chronicle editorial yesterday. Yes, newspaper Web content to date has been overwhelmingly free. One reason publishers have been reluctant to charge for Web content, he says, is that such a move would likely just lose customers to other, competing papers.

But what if the newspaper industry as a whole went to the Justice Department "for an antitrust exemption that would allow publishers to collaborate on a decision to begin charging for their Web sites"? He says the price could be debated, and that's not really the issue. The point is getting enough people to the table, and consent from the government, to begin instituting sweeping changes across the board.

It might just work. The most intriguing scenario I've seen tossed out there yet. I hope Brinkley gets his column to the right people who can get the wheels in at least explore this very interesting idea.

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