Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Independent abandons paid for Internet content – good news or another sign of doom?

The Independent newspaper’s web site seems quietly to have dropped its ‘Portfolio’ service which restricted access to most of its comment and editorial pieces. The access fee was a fairly modest fifty pounds a year but I guess it wasn’t generating enough revenue to justify the additional complexity.

I get the Indy’s daily e-mail and this week the little p symbol that showed the restricted content has disappeared. But I’ve not found any announcements to explain its absence.

Thing is, is this good or bad news? In the short term it’s good for freeloaders like me who could never quite bring themselves to subscribe. My logic was that there was too much good stuff on three other quality papers’ sites for me to read for free in a day anyway.

But what about the longer term? The Indy’s pretty adept at spinning news into doom and gloom if it suits its editorial stance so how about this viewpoint? If no one can make money out of putting quality writing onto the Internet won’t the quantity of quality writing inevitably reduce? Newspaper finances are pretty shaky already and getting worse as conventional readership and advertising declines. All Britain’s quality papers rely to some extent on the largess of their proprietors.

The chances of another quality paper being successfully launched are vanishingly close to zero, much more likely is the demise of one or more of the existing titles. We could be in for an accelerating decline in quality as the remaining papers position themselves to attract more readers. Optimists will point to all the stuff writen in the blogosphere but the quality of it would be rated as highly as ‘variable’ only by a kindly soul; the truth is most of it is garbage. And why should it be otherwise? How can a bunch of generally ill-informed amateurs hope to compete with people who do it for a living?

We may end up with much more choice but nothing worth choosing; a bit like multi-channel TV some gloom-mongers might opine....

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