Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

News Corp. Recruiting for Its Pay-to-Play Web Gang

So what has Jon Miller been up to since Rupert Murdoch hired him to oversee News Corp.’s digital business in March?

Quite a bit!

Job One has been overhauling MySpace, which is still very much a work in progress. But Miller’s full plate includes lots of other tasks too. Like trying to convince Google (GOOG) or Microsoft (MSFT) to pony up for a big search deal to replace the Google/MySpace deal that expires next year.

Equally difficult job: Trying to figure how to get consumers to pay for some of the content News Corp. currently provides for free on the Web.

The Los Angeles Times advances that part of the story this morning with a report that Miller is “believed to have met” with rival publishers–including those from the New York Times (NYT), Washington Post Co. (WPO), Hearst and Tribune Co.–about creating a consortium to charge for online news.

I believe it. My understanding is that while Murdoch has been vocal about his intent to start charging consumers to read his stuff, the more sober assessment within News Corp. (which owns this Web site) is that charging for news will only work if there is a critical mass of publishers trying to do it together. How many would that be? “Enough people so that it matters,” a News Corp. exec tells me.

Whether you could actually get enough big publishers to work together (something that start-up Journalism Online is trying to do, in its own way; so for that matter, is the Associated Press) is an open question, of course. And then there are the inevitable antitrust issues.

But I think the most practical problem for News Corp., and everyone else who works in the news business, is that from the consumer’s perspective, very little of the stuff we produce is worth paying for. That doesn’t mean you can’t figure out how to sell specialized bits of content (a la The Wall Street Journal or Consumer Reports). But a great deal of the stuff we make can be found all over the Web, with little to distinguish it, and the model that used to support this content–near-monopolies on eyeballs and ad dollars–has disappeared. Pay wall or no, that’s going to have change going forward.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald