Could iNews Save the Newspaper Business?

Everybody else is getting a bailout, so why not the newspaper industry?

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Everybody else is getting a bailout, so why not the newspaper industry?


That's the suggestion (perhaps made tongue in cheek) of Brian E. Marks, national account manager of the Virginia newspaper Leesburg Today.

"Considering the plight of newspapers," Marks writes in this month's issue of Editor & Publisher, "is an orchestrated effort by the newspaper industry toward requesting a government bailout worthy of discussion and coverage by E&P? A vibrant newspaper industry is an essential ingredient within America's democracy. Your thoughts in response are appreciated."

The Eye's thought is that it's a terrible idea. A free press wouldn't survive two weeks if it was dependent on government handouts.

A more promising idea was offered by New York Times columnist David Carr, who thinks somebody should invent a news version of iTunes.

"Remember that when iTunes began, the music industry was being decimated by file sharing," Carr writes. "By coming up with an easy user interface and obtaining the cooperation of a broad swath of music companies, Mr. [Steve] Jobs helped pull the business off the brink. He has been accused of running roughshod over the music labels, which are a fraction of their former size. But they are still in business.

"Those of us who are in the newspaper business could not be blamed for hoping that someone like him comes along and ruins our business as well by pulling the same trick: convincing the millions of interested readers who get their news every day free on newspapers sites that it's time to pay up."

When newspapers first started putting their content on the Web, Carr goes on, the assumption was that Web ad revenue would eventually catch up with and surpass the advertising revenue being lost by the print version. But it hasn't worked out that way.

Carr quotes Craig Moffett of Bernstein Research: "The notion that the enormous cost of real news-gathering might be supported by the ad load of display advertising down the side of the page, or by the revenue share from having a Google search box in the corner of the page, or even by a 15-second teaser from Geico prior to a news clip, is idiotic on its face."

"Free is not a business model," Moffett continued. "It sounded good and everybody got excited about it, but when you look around, it is clear that it is creating havoc and will not work in the long term."

Obviously it would be tough to organize a news version of iTunes (call it iNews?) and the startup costs would be enormous. But we're inclined to think it would be doable - and there's a fortune to be made by anybody who can make it work.

Bill Gates, this could be your chance to finally steal a technological march on Steve Jobs.

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