Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Difference Between iTunes and News

No one knows what to do with the newspaper. Or the Internet. Or with intellectual property generally. Last week I wrote about Walter Isaacson's idea in Time magazine to charge "micropayments" of 10 cents for an article or $2 for a month's subscription. He got the idea from iTunes.
There is a multitude of reasons why [Apple CEO Steve] Jobs won't save newspapers (and it's not just because the secretive CEO hates the media). Put simply, journalism is not music. Yes, Jobs convinced consumers to pay for music in digital form. But unlike an individual newspaper link, an iTunes purchase becomes digital property a music lover can enjoy for life. (I must have listened to the latest Animal Collective tracks a dozen times last week before I got sick of them.) Compare that to a dispatch from Baghdad or an analysis of the stimulus bailout. No matter how illuminating and engaging, journalism is fleeting by comparison. What's the value differential between owning music for life and scanning one article? Hard to say. But it's probably a lot less than the 10 cents Isaacson proposes.
As I said at the time, I wasn't necessarily opposed to the idea Isaacson proposed, but we're forgetting how broadcast media evolved, almost entirely dependent on ads because it was impossible to tell who was "subscribing" and who wasn't. It's sort of similar with the Internet. You can password protect all you want, but that can decrease your traffic, which can decrease your advertising revenue. It's a bit of a conundrum.

It's also weird that Isaacson proposes this "micropayment" idea as the one that will save newspapers. All he's really doing is coming up with an additional revenue stream for websites. This idea of micropayments wouldn't eliminate ads. It would supplement them.

Then I saw Isaacson on The Daily Show, where he and Jon Stewart both managed to come across as the oldest foggies ever:

Not to say that there isn't a "tactile" quality to newspapers and magazines, but it's a little absurd to argue that because people like holding things, the newspaper industry is saved. That's, um, weird. Especially considering that people already use computers so much in their daily lives, and with more and more people accessing the internet on their phones, it's just odd to say that holding things is the new way. Sure, there's a bit of self-satire there, but it's just not the way of the future. Accept it and move on.

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