At greatest risk are newspapers in between—the mid-sized regional metropolitan dailies, like The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. For example, when McClatchy bought the hugely profitable Star Tribune from the Cowles family in 1998, the paper was one of the Internet pioneers. The family had invested heavily in startribune.com. But when the dot-com bubble burst, and profit margins fell from over 30 percent to under 20 percent, McClatchy began disinvesting. To make matters worse, the innovative startribune.com was ordered to convert to the technology of McClatchy Interactive, which was based on the successful site of another McClatchy paper, the Raleigh News & Observer. “We lost at least a year,” says one reporter. And not long after the technical overhaul was complete, the paper was sold again; the Web staff is now scrambling to disengage from an alien technology that it never liked. Sources at the paper say that Web traffic and Web advertising revenue were close to flat in 2006, while they rose sharply at most newspapers.Kuttner also delves slightly into the Google Books dilemma, but I foundJeffrey Toobin's article inthe New Yorker (Feb. 5) much more informative. Google Books is somewhat of its own subject. The problems with Google books have a lot more to do with copyright and public access. The opponents to the project may end up actually helping Google:
A federal court in New York is considering two challenges to the project, one brought by several writers and the Authors Guild, the other by a group of publishers, who are also, curiously, partners in Google Book Search. Both sets of plaintiffs claim that the library component of the project violates copyright law. Like most federal lawsuits, these cases appear likely to be settled before they go to trial, and the terms of any such deal will shape the future of digital books. Google, in an effort to put the lawsuits behind it, may agree to pay the plaintiffs more than a court would require; but, by doing so, the company would discourage potential competitors. To put it another way, being taken to court and charged with copyright infringement on a large scale might be the best thing that ever happens to Google's foray into the printed word.
By setting a legal president, which Google has every reason to think it would win, they would break open the wall between copyright and online. I was surprised when doing a recent search for scholarly articles that these in particular are password protected more than any other kind of information on the Web. This seems counterintuitive. The research was conducted in the interest of adding to collective knowledge. By saying that this kind of information is at a premium, it's pushing a kind of elitism about academic research. Not only do you have to be of a certain class to study a topic, but you also have to be of a certain class to access information on a topic.