Big news stories: A threat or opportunity for paid content strategies?

January was a very stormy month here in the UK. We live just outside of London, and it has been quite soggy with our local park being flooded to some extent for much of the past month. People were swept out to sea as they tried to snap photos of the fierce waves. Photos and videos flooded news websites and the social web. People love weather stories, but as we saw during the storms, they rely less on traditional media to tell and share those stories.

David Higgerson, the digital publishing director for the regional websites within Trinity Mirror, is right when he catalogues the hyper-competitive environment that local journalism, especially, but journalism in general faces in a world where cameras are everywhere and distribution via social media is lightning fast and engaging.

But imagine, just for a moment, if we’d had paywalls around our sites – be they full, pay-or-sod-off paywalls or pay-as-you-go model. What do you think would have happened? Would people, up to their ankles in water and without power be digging out their debit cards to log on via their mobiles? Would worried relatives elsewhere in the country link your website to their Paypal account to keep up to speed with your live blog?

No, of course they wouldn’t. They’d have gone to Twitter, where police forces share information by the minutes. Followed new pages on Facebook, where the Environment Agency was actively driving users when appearing on broadcast media. They could have searched Google and found any one of the traditional national newspaper brands now hoovering up any agency copy they can find. Or checked out the BBC, which is superb at cross promotion. Or discovered hyperlocal sites run for passion or for money … and never again thought twice about us.

David is right, and paywalls are not the easy solutions that most journalists dream of as much as we might wish it were so. David closes by saying, “We have the potential to create great content, we just need to find the revenue model.” That is it in a nutshell. To quote advice given to a friend about his journalism start-up: “You know you can create value. But can you capture it?”

While local newspapers have much greater competition for attention and audiences, their real challenge has been competition for revenue. At the moment, we have two business models that have had some success: High volume predominantly ad supported, and a mix of ad and reader revenue. National or formerly national newspapers with international strategies, (think The Daily Mail and The Guardian), are pursuing an advertising-based business model based on scaling their audiences aggressively. But the pure scale model really isn’t an option for local journalism. Digital advertising operates and delivers meaningful returns with millions, probably tens or hundreds of millions of uniques. Most local sites on their own don’t operate at that scale. Some groups are looking at network plays amongst their sites, like Advance’s MLive network in Michigan in the US (disclaimer, I worked for MLive in another lifetime between 1997 and 1998). However, that isn’t an option for all local groups.

That means either reader revenue or alternate revenue streams, and the latter are showing some promised. Some local news groups are trialling digital services businesses, and it was one bright area for local media in the US last year. The Dallas Morning News has bought a number of digital ad and marketing companies to help it build meaningful digital revenue. (Notable as well is that they dropped their paywall recently.) A Newspaper Association of America report showed last year showed a 91 percent increase in marketing service revenue. It’s good to see that kind of growth somewhere in the business.

Paid content models used to be a binary choice, hence the name paywall. However, paid content strategies have evolved, and I don’t simply mean moving to the metered model as opposed to the hard paywall strategies. Modern paid content strategies have grown more nimble, more flexible. During big stories like storms, news groups like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have opened up their sites. This can be a great marketing opportunity to highlight the richness of your content, even in this new media environment. Paid content strategies also should provide publishers with a richer stream of data so that they can deliver better experiences and better products both for audiences and for advertisers.

David is spot on about being clear-headed about the competitive challenges, and he is also right that the real test now is finding the revenue model for local journalism. For the revenue to come, the products will have to change as well. If we’re not competitive with social media or more to the point working with social media to provide audiences with the best verified content, then we need to step up our game. Ever the optimist, I’d like to think that there is an opportunity for local news organisations to curate and verify this local information. To me, this is about smartly staying at the centre of a new local information and conversation eco-system. The bottom line is that whether it is storms or other breaking news, we have to compete for audiences. If we can do that, I think we’ll remain relevant to audiences and advertisers.

Journalism: Paid content and determining the cost of free

Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know that I’m a huge fan of NPR’s Planet Money programme. The show guides you through the arcana of finance and economics in a witty and accessible way. Recently, they rebroadcast a programme on the cost of free. In this case they were talking about free doughnuts and rumours of a longstanding grudge that US veterans have against the Red Cross. Planet Money’s Chana Joffe-Walt investigated, and sure enough, American vets do grumble about the Red Cross charging for their doughnuts. The story is a bit more complicated, and I don’t want to spoil the reveal, but the story illustrates in Planet Money’s own wonderful fashion the cost of free, or more precisely, the cost to businesses of charging for something that used to be free. In the case of the Red Cross, they still have trouble shifting the opinion of vets who once got doughnuts for free and then found themselves paying for them.

If consumers are used to one price and it changes, the change will seem more dramatic, according to economist Uri Simonsohn, who is interviewed in the piece. When that reference price is zero, consumers will have one of two reactions. They will either adjust their reference price, the price that they are accustomed to paying, or Simonsohn says a price change can be seen as a categorical change, a change in the relationship between the consumer and the organisation. Simonsohn compared this categorical change to akin if your parents charged you for a holiday meal. The Red Cross charging servicemen for doughnuts was send as a categorical change, and Joffe-Walt said that the servicemen felt betrayed by the change in price and the change in the relationship brought about by that price change.

Simonsohn says businesses make these massively damaging categorical mistakes when they start charging for things that “people don’t think are part of business”. For example, Delta Airlines made the mistake of charging to speak to agents over the telephone in the 1990s, and Planet Money host Alex Blumberg says that customers “freaked out” and were so furious that Delta were forced to reverse the decision. As Blumberg said at the top of the programme, “Free can backfire. When you take something that was free and give it a price, that is a highly a risky move.” When people view a change in their relationship with a business as categorical, their imagination starts to run wild. If a business is going to charge me for this previously free product or service, they ask, where will it end?

Some price changes, however, are accepted. People won’t stand for being charged to speak to an agent, but now many Americans and most Europeans flying on low-cost carriers have accepted paying for bags. The idea that they have to pay to move not only themselves but their baggage from one place to another makes sense, but paying someone to have a conversation, that doesn’t make sense at all.

So how can businesses, including news organisations, avoid making the mistake of a categorical change in what they charge? As Joffe-Walt says, news organisations like the New York Times are wrestling with this. Blumberg said that people can either view the New York Times as a newspaper, which they know they pay for, or they can view it in the online ‘information wants to be free’ category. “Avoid for charging for things that people would not describe as ‘hey, I got this for free’ because that mistake could be very hard to fix,” Blumberg said.

We are seeing a lot of experiments by news organisations who are trying to generate revenue from readers to help pay for journalism, but it’s important that publishers not try to charge  for things that their readers don’t see as part of the journalism business. Making a category change error could have serious ramifications, and many news organisations do not have the resilience left to survive such mistakes. The big challenge of paid content has been, and continues to be, in understanding what things (or, more often, what bundle of things), readers will pay for. Fortunately, we’re starting to figure out what works and, just as importantly, what doesn’t.

Aalto, Helsingin Sanomat: Super stats on digital subscribers and mobile from #wpe13

John Thompson of Journalism.co.uk has tweeted some great stats about paid content and mobile from World Publishing Expo 2013. In particular, a string of recent tweets highlight some fascinating numbers from Finland’s largest daily newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat.

The conversion figure, the stat that 42 percent of all subscribers pay for digital content, is pretty incredible, and I hope that John provides some more detail. With a lot of paid content strategies, you hope for between 5 to 10 percent conversion. How do they achieve that?

Kickstarter-funded Read Matter finding subs do better than singles

Bobbie Johnson by Jeremy Keith from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

Bobbie Johnson by Jeremy Keith from Flickr, Some Rights Reserved

Building sustainable journalism is a topic near and dear to me as it is core to the work that I do now, and Hacks/Hackers London on Wednesday provided one of those rare times when you get to hear someone a real journalism entrepreneur talk about what has worked and what hasn’t with their start-up. Of course, it’s also great to see a former colleague at The Guardian, Bobbie Johnson, find success.

He and co-founder Jim Giles launched Read Matter with a campaign to raise seed capital on crowdfunding site Kickstarter. They set a goal of raising $50,000, but in less than 48 hours, their goal was firmly in the rear view mirror. In the end, they raised almost three times their goal, brining in $140,201. As Bobbie told The Next Web, crowdfunding can be a great bit of market research. It allows you to find out whether there is real demand for your project.

One of the things that I think really helped their Kickstarter campaign was a great video that clearly explained what Read Matter was in a highly engaging way. It was a great bit of marketing, and if you believe in your journalism, I believe that you have to be ready to sell it. It’s not enough to have the conviction that journalism should win in the marketplace of ideas, you do need to work to make sure that it cuts through the overwhelming torrent of things competing for people’s time and attention.

However, taking a step back before the campaign, Bobbie and Jim did business plans. Bobbie quickly flashed the Excel spreadsheets they used to try to figure out if there was an actual business with how they planned to produce one long-form science and technology piece a month. For a lot of journalists trying to do start-ups, I’d strongly suggest speaking with someone with business experience. It’s not something that we were taught in J-school, but in this new world for the brave, this is something you’ll either need to develop or get via a partner in your project.

Bobbie and Jim are learning as they go along, and one of the things that really stood out for me was lessons that surprised them. They had expected most of their sales to be single sales, but they are actually getting more of their revenue from subscriptions. I read Bobbie’s experience that single sales were too high friction. It’s much easier to set up a subscription through iTunes, Amazon or your own payment system than it is to remember to buy something every month when it comes out. I think that has a profound implication for how news groups are packaging up their long-form, high-gloss, high-cost pieces. Does this mean that instead of trying to sell Kindle Singles, that it might be better for news groups to sell subs for long-form journalism? Should they have several packages that target niches? Read Matter covers only science and technology. Would they be as successful if they tried to sell “investigative journalism” rather than a single topic? My gut says that investigative journalism as a class of content might have more value to journalists than it does intrinsically to audiences. What I mean is that audiences are usually interested in topics, not classes of content. That is why I’m sceptical about the sustainability of trying to strip out deep investigative journalism from a broader package of content.

I’m doing a lot of thinking about how to support long-form, often investigative journalism. As  another speaker at Hacks/Hackers London on Wednesday – David Leigh of The Guardian – pointed out, the cross-subsidy in journalism businesses, mostly fat advertising returns, are going or gone. To me, the real question is not how to support investigative journalism on its own but how to find new sources of cross-subsidy to support it.

That aside, kudos to Bobbie and Jim. I know that their future success will take a lot of work and more learning, but it is encouraging to see people succeeding with new models to support the real heavy lifting of long-form original content.

Murdoch shifts from sites to ‘digitally delivered editions’

Following The Times and The Sunday Times going behind their Fortress of Solitude paywalls, Rupert Murdoch continues his new digital strategy by moving the tabloid News of the World to an online subscription model. Dominic Ponsford of the Press Gazette sums up the move nicely:

Both are examples of the fact that, for Rupert Murdoch the internet is so over. Without any inbound or outbound links, and invisible to Google and other search engines, the NotW, Times and Sunday Times don’t really have internet sites – but digitally delivered editions.

I suppose that if you’re a true, blue believer in the apps versus open web idea, I guess this makes some amount of sense.

I have a feeling that as we move forward, digital editions will actually be a bundle of apps that work on the desktop, a tablet and even on flat screens via Google TV, Apple TV and alternative set-top box software like Boxee. Two years ago, Nick Bilton at The New York Times showed Suw and I a concept of the Times’ content following you through the day. As you moved from desktop to mobile to couch, New York Times followed you seamlessly, completely enveloped you. Sure, it was content from a single site, but the ease of use meant that it was effortless, frictionless. Of course, it helps to have the depth and quality of content of the New York Times. That was compelling. That is something I would pay for, but we’re still in the early days of constructing such a vision.

When I’m feeling really generous, I might think that News International’s strategy might be a step in that direction, but mostly, I still think that Murdoch’s paywall experiments are more for News International’s benefit than a bold step to create a compelling new digital offering.

Will publishers rally to Google’s Newspass?

Matthew Buckland has a great guest post on Silicon Valley Watcher looking at Google’s Newspass payment system for publishers. (It’s cross-posted from memeburn.com)  Buckland compares the value proposition for users with Google’s system and the system that Rupert Murdoch has instituted at The Times. He likens Newspass to a cable television subscription in which a consumer makes a one off, predictable payment to receive a package of content each month. He says:

Take the analogy of satellite TV. You pay once and you get a bouquet of hundreds of channels. The transaction is simple and easy. You know you’re getting good value for money too because there is an economy-of-scale effect at work. Now imagine another scenario: What if you have to pay individually for each TV channel and go through the effort, time and extra cost to do so. It’s a no brainer really.

Of course from the consumer’s point of view, it makes a lot more sense to pay once for a bundle of content rather than paying subs to several different providers or micro-payments for individual pieces of content. However, if newspaper groups had the rationality to think about creating value propositions for their readers, they might have spared themselves the mess that they are in.

The big question, as Matthew highlights, is whether a significant number of publishers will choose to join Newspass or create their own payment system. I’m not sure that such a payment system would be possible in all jurisdictions based on competition/anti-trust law. That notwithstanding, knowing publishers, I would expect them to lobby for a relaxation of anti-competition laws in their own countries to make such a system possible rather than partner with Google, which they have as Matthew rightly points out, a love-hate relationship with. I’d say that it’s bordering on hate-hate these days, but that’s a matter of interpretation.

Matthew sees Google as a “dispassionate third party”, but with the egos in publishing and the ‘not invented here bias’, I’m not sure that publishers see Google as dispassionate or without skin in the game. Murdoch and his lieutenants, though possible an extreme example, refer to Google as a “parasite”. For them to be pushed into partnering with the likes of Google, they would have to be pressured into seeing past their almost self-destructively hyper-competitive natures and see that some loss of advantage was worth new revenue streams. In fact, I would see them being more open to partnering with another company just in an attempt to screw Google. Despite the existential threat facing some newspapers and newspaper groups, I’m not sure that they have seen the light, by which I mean the light some reportedly see with near-death experiences.

Honesty in the age of the paywall

After months of discussion and speculation, The Times and The Sunday Times have disappeared behind a paywall or have asked their readers to pay for the journalism that they value, depending on which side of an almost religious divide you fall on. Like a lot of commentary, I find the punditry and posturing around paywalls uninformed, over-simplistic and, frequently, disingenuous.

It is often said that people paid for journalism in print so they should pay for journalism online. If ‘they’ value journalism, they should pay for it.

No. As many people have pointed out, the cover price of a newspaper really just paid for the high capital costs of printing and distributing a newspaper. To put it bluntly: People paid for the platform, not for the content.

As the OECD said in its recent survey of the newspaper industry in 30 countries:

On the cost side, costs unrelated to editorial work such as production, maintenance, administration, promotion and advertising, and distribution dominate newspaper costs. These large fixed costs make newspaper organisations more vulnerable to the downturns and less agile in reacting to the online news environment.

For every newspaper journalist who moans about how much money their publication spends on running their website, I would ask them if they know how much the outlay is for printing the newspaper. Business Insider calculated that for the cost of printing and distribution the New York Times was twice the cost of sending every single subscriber Amazon’s Kindle e-reader.

Google’s chief economist Hal Varian looked at the US industry and found that in terms of core costs, only 14% of costs as a percentage of revenue went to pay for editorial. Production costs were 52% of newspaper costs by revenue. (Varian has sourced all of his statistics from the US Statistical Abstract, the Newspaper Association of America, the Pew Foundation and academic sources.)

Newspaper revenue and the great digital divide

However, here lies the conundrum for newspapers, which commenters point out on Business Insider. For most newspapers, the printed newspaper brings in roughly 80% of their revenue. With the current revenue mix, shutting off the presses is simply not an option without dramatically cutting the editorial staff. One example of this is the Seattle-Post Intelligencer, which went online only in 2009. Hearst laid off 160 employees and retained 20 “news gatherers”. It’s not necessarily a recipe for success, with traffic declining by 20% after the shift.

Digital must and can make up more of the revenue mix at newspapers. In its report, the OECD found that “online advertising only accounted for around four per cent of total newspaper revenues in 2009, and fell strongly in 2009”. However, and this is key, the report said:

In general, the online revenues of newspapers are miniscule in comparison to total revenues and online revenues of other digital content industries.

Many will say that it’s not possible to make enough money online to replace the revenue that used to flow to print. We have traded dollars in print for pennies online, they say. This is not an iron-clad law of digital content. Yes, digital margins are lower, but many content companies make money online.

In a recent Folio profile of Justin Smith’s turnaround of The Atlantic. Smith pushed for a digital first strategy, which to many in the newspaper industry probably sounds like heresy in 2010. The simple rebuttal to that would be Smith’s record of success. The Atlantic had seen declining circulation and revenue since the 1960s. In 2010, they project a turn to profit, with digital representing 39% of their revenue mix.

Innovating on the commercial side

The problem with newspapers’ digital strategies has been that they have largely been content strategies without effective commercial strategies. For too long at too many publications, digital advertising has simply been a sweetener bundled in with the print ad sales. For too long, we have not done enough to know our audiences online, understand their needs and adjust our strategies accordingly.

Those who have succeeded online often have innovated in terms of commercial models as much as they have in content creation. Google’s main revenue engine is advertising, serving up ads to people based on what they are searching for. Without that commercial innovation, Google would not be the billion-dollar company it is today if it’s business model was based solely on undifferentiated ads supporting a search service.

Indeed, I agree with this post on ExchangeWire that the publications that will benefit the most in the future “will be able to leverage that audience to generate more revenue from targeted ads or data trading” and goes on to say:

But if they are to have a commercial future, pubs will need to be become absolutely obsessed about their data and how it can be best used to unlock new revenue.

We’ll have to re-think print and digital and the revenue streams that support journalism on those platforms. We’ll need to re-think advertising and have commercial strategies that reflect differences in audiences and in editorial approaches.

Oversimplifying an issue is something that media excels at, and now, its lack of sophistication in dealing with issues is hitting closer to home. This is not simply an issue of free versus paid, not simply an issue of jettisoning freeloaders and extracting value from those who value journalism enough to pay for it. Creating such false dichotomies makes a good column in which complex issues are transformed into black and white choices for easy consumption, but simple analyses often lead to simple and simply ineffectual solutions.

Newspapers must end their dependence on the revenue from print or face continuing decline leading for many to total collapse. The industry has been having this civil war over paid versus free. Surely, the argument should be profitable versus unsustainable? We didn’t need Murdoch to build his paywall to prove a point, we already have examples of newspapers and magazines realising that they are in the news business not just the paper business.

For those labouring in the digital side of the business, once you’re making the majority of the revenue, you’ll not just have a seat at the table, in many cases, you’ll be at the head of it. It’s achievable. It’s necessary. There is no time to waste. The future of journalism (as opposed to the future of newspapers) depends on it.

US paper sets limit for free local articles

In a hint at the thinking behind the New York Times’ paid content strategy, a local paper it owns will allow subscribers to read all news content, but non-subscribers will be asked to pay after viewing a “predetermined number of staff-generated local news articles“. The Times owned Worcester Telegram & Gazette writes:

After users pass that limit, they will be asked to pay a monthly charge or buy a day pass. The price and threshold have not been determined.

The article states that most content on the site will remain free with the pay meter being set only for content produced by the Telegram & Gazette news staff.

This is yet another refinement in the paid content strategies being proposed, and it moves further away from the kind of binary, universal paywall versus free argument. The binary argument makes good copy, a nice bit of media biz argy bargy, but it hasn’t done much to help the failing fortunes of the newspaper business. Besides, most sensible people in the business know that a more sophisticated, hybrid model has a greater chance of success.

I’m not familiar with the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. The big questions for me are around how much original content they produce on a given day and the competition they face from local radio and television. The bulk of their website will remain free even for non-subscribers. Will the staff content be enough of a draw to get people to pay? We shall see, but it will be great to get some data from an increasing number of experiments so that the paid content discussion moves past some of the faith-based decision making stage.

Readers must perceive ‘real value’ to pay

PHD Media, a division of media and ad giant Omnicom Group, has released a new study that feeds into the paid content debate, reports CNBC. Julia Boorstin of CNBC highlights a few ‘surprising factoids’.

  • The bottom line: consumers are reading more print content online, but the only way they’ll pay for it, is if they perceive a real value and when comparable free content isn’t readily available.
  • Another surprising factoid: consumers don’t care about the brand, they care about the content. (Except when it comes to sports)

Frankly, I don’t find the last one that surprising, especially when you factor in the study found that 44% of respondents in the study accessed a publication website through a search engine. Search is a fundamental shift in information consumption. People don’t browse for information but use search to seek it out and also rely on recommendations from friends.

As I’ve often said publicly, my reading habits are voracious and promiscuous. My reading habits tend to be subject led, not publication led. I seek out information. I am a little cautious of extrapolating my behaviour more broadly because I’m a journalist. I am paid to read, research, report and write. I’m also very digitally focused. I get most of my information via the internet or my mobile phone. However, recent studies such as this one show that I’m not unique in my habits.

This study reinforces my view that news organisations need to focus on developing services and products that deliver value to readers and not simply focus on building infrastructure to charge for existing content. Another take away from this study is that “just small a fraction of the 2,400 adults polled, read both the print and online versions of the same publication”. That leads me to believe that the products that we develop must serve the needs of digital audiences, and we should be careful about trying to focus digital development on services to appeal to print audiences.

The debate rolls on

The Great Paid Content Debate of 2009 rumbles on. On Tuesday at the Paley Centre, Stephen Brill on paid content services provider Journalism Online LLC said on Tuesday that people had been paying for print content for decades and that they just needed to get back into the habit online.

However, I tend to agree with Vivian Schiller, president and CEO of US public radio broadcaster NPR, when she commented at the event:

To think that we are so smart that we can retrain the audience, that’s an awfully elitist, condescending, and frankly old perspective.

Trying to bully consumers into behaving a certain way, especially in a way that is contrary to their current habits, doesn’t have a track record of success.

To be fair to Brill, he is not advocating putting all content behind paywalls and is working with news organisations to determine what content will become paid. However, I reject his basic premise, which he has stated over and over, that this is a matter of getting users accustomed to paying for content online. I do agree that to continue to support journalism, news organisations are going to have to develop new sources of revenue, digital and otherwise.

On that point, I’ll just re-iterate something that I’ve said before. In the Great Paid Content of 2009, some journalists and news executives have been playing fast and loose with facts (gasp, shock, that never happens), and one thing that I’m hearing with too much regularity is that newspapers can’t make money online, that digital is just some money pit that will never support quality journalism. I’ve heard this before in the late 1990s. To which I would say, just because your news organisation isn’t making money online, it doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to make money on the internet.

Suw and I were in Norway recently, where media conglomerate Schibsted has an online classifieds joint venture with several local newspapers. In a prescient move, Schibsted launched the site, Finn.no, in 2000. It has grown into Norway’s largest classified site, and it’s a money spinner for Schibsted. The newspapers that will survive will realise that they are in the news not the newspaper business.

Progressive, forward-thinking news organisations made the shift from print to a diversified, multi-platform business before the Great Recession, and there are examples of  information products and services that news organisations could sell to help support journalism. Sadly, most news organisations didn’t make this transition. From the Financial Times:

Alarmingly, the industry has also so far “failed to make the digital transition”, according to a report last month from Outsell, a publishing research firm, which found that news organisations’ digital revenues were just 11 per cent of their total revenues, compared with 69 per cent for the broader information industry, which includes legal and financial data providers such as Reed Elsevier and Bloomberg. 

When we were in Norway, one of the comments that really struck me was a comment from a member of the Norwegian Online News Association who said that there had been plenty of editorial innovation in the last decade but not enough commercial innovation. To support the social mission of journalism, journalists will need to overcome their professional distate for the business side of the operation and lend their creativity to developing products and services that readers value. It’s not only possible but essential that we do this.

AP’s Curley v Curley and News Corp’s Rupert v Rupert

The newspaper industry has woken from its slumber, and they have realised the enemy is not the internet. The enemy is actually you and me, those of us who use the internet. According to the CEO of the Associated Press Tom Curley, “third parties are exploiting AP content without input and permission”, and:

Crowd-sourcing Web services such as Wikipedia, YouTube and Facebook have become preferred customer destinations for breaking news, displacing Web sites of traditional news publishers.

I’m linking to this on one of these third parties sites, Google News, which has a commercial hosting agreement with the AP. Those bloody paying parasites!

Curley was speaking at the World Media Summit in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People. Does Curley know who added those links to Wikipedia, shared those stories on Facebook or uploaded those videos to YouTube? Internet users, you, me and millions of others around the world. For Mr Curley, the internet is a “den of thieves“, says Jeff Jarvis.

Jeff offers his argument against this view of the world. However, I’d like to stage another bit of a debate, one possible through the virtual time travel of the internet. Let’s get ready to rumble! In this corner, we have the Curley of 2009, who argues:

We content creators must quickly and decisively act to take back control of our content.

With that jab, a slightly younger, slightly more optimistic Curley of 2004 lands a right hook: “The future of news is online, and traditional media outlets must learn to tailor their products for consumers who demand instant, personalized information.” The Curley of 2004 instead sees this future from his own past:

the content comes to you; you don’t have to come to the content so, get ready for everything to be ‘Googled,’ ‘deep-linked’ or ‘Tivo-ized’.

Ouch Tom 2009, that looks like it hurts. Next up in our virtual cage match is a spry 78-year-old, Rupert Murdoch! Let’s start with the Rupert of 2009:

The aggregators and plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the co-opting of our content. But if we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid content, it will be the content creators — the people in this hall — who will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs who triumph.

Fighting back is the fighting fit Rupert “The Digital Immigrant” Murdoch of 2005:

Scarcely a day goes by without some claim that new technologies are fast writing newsprint’s obituary. Yet, as an industry, many of us have been remarkably, unaccountably complacent. Certainly, I didn’t do as much as I should have after all the excitement of the late 1990’s. I suspect many of you in this room did the same, quietly hoping that this thing called the digital revolution would just limp along.

It’s a shame to see this come to blows. These guys should really talk to each other. With Rupert 2009 on the ropes, Rupert 2005 delivers this shot:

What is happening is, in short, a revolution in the way young people are accessing news. They don’t want to rely on the morning paper for their up-to-date information. They don’t want to rely on a god-like figure from above to tell them what’s important. And to carry the religion analogy a bit further, they certainly don’t want news presented as gospel.

Instead, they want their news on demand, when it works for them.

They want control over their media, instead of being controlled by it.

Ouch. Can’t you guys make up your mind? Has the Great Recession changed consumer internet behaviour and media consumption trends? Or did the industry’s complacency finally catch up with it?