*The Only Solution To Save Newspapers Is To Ban Linking

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I stumbled across this issue on a blog of a former lecturer of mine at the University of Edinburgh. What actually caught my attention was the fact that Andres, a very quiet, extremely polite and really smart person, apparently got quite emotional about a blog entry by Richard Posner, a Seventh Circuit Appeals Court Judge, and Gary Becker, an American economist and Nobel laureate.

The blog entry by Posner and Becker is about the decline of the newspaper industry and the fact that, due to the current economic crisis among other reasons, more and more people have stopped purchasing newspapers and are now consuming free online content. Among with some breathtaking figures (ad revenues down by 30% during the first quarter, compared to 2008; print circulation down by 7 % this year) the authors also argue that all this will “entail a reduction in quality“, as only big newspapers have the resources (network of correspondents, high journalistic standards, etc.) to provide first class information. As a possible way to stop this trend they suggest:

“Expanding copyright law to bar online access to copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, or to bar linking to or paraphrasing copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, might be necessary to keep free riding on content financed by online newspapers from so impairing the incentive to create costly news-gathering operations that news services like Reuters and the Associated Press would become the only professional, nongovernmental sources of news and opinion.”

Andres questions the logic behind Posner’s and Becker’s argument and states that he sees no reason why newspapers in their present form should continue to exist if there are no adequate business models behind them. Secondly, he argues that its not only size of the newspaper that matters and brings forwards examples like the Daily Mail or Fox News. [as Austrian I just can’t resist but drop two words here: “Kronen Zeitung”] Thirdly, he steps back and brings in the “broad view argument”, that is, that it is not Google or blogs that have lead to this change of user behaviour, but a shift from 20th century “ponder about the story all evening, print it during the early hours of the day and sell it to the customer in the morning“-model to the “see it – broadcast it instantaneously“-model of the 21st century.

I fully agree with Andres and would like to add a few things. For me the current struggle of traditional newspapers remindes me of the boycott of horse and cart owners against the building of a railway track. The need, transporting goods or in our case “information” usually remains the same, but, as sad as it must be for a printer to hear this, there is no point in clinging to outdated technologies such as printing daily information onto paper.

I am pretty much a subscriber to a certain Austrian quality newspaper ever since I left my parents’ house many years ago.  Still, I am puzzled that I still haven’t found an offer by that newspaper in my post box offering me free kindle and an electronic copy of my newspaper every morning. I have not subscribed to this newspaper because I need low quality paper to dry the insides of my wet shoes in winter; I want information and no, I am not even reading the paper version any more, as by 08:30 I’ve already read most of the newspaper’s content online.

The only reason why I am still a subscriber of DIE PRESSE is because I see my subscription fee as kind of almost voluntarily contribution to ensure that the quality of the news I am reading stays high. I don’t care who is giving me the day to day information, but when I really feel the urge to dig into a topic I do want to know where I can find in-depth articles which contain not only information (Wikipedia would do for that), but also a solid line of argumentation and some decent reasoning.

Do not try to use copyright law to stifle change.

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