Arguing that advertising revenue alone can't sustain their business models, News Corp. execs have recently met with top publishers -- New York Times Co., Washington Post Co., Hearst Corp. and Tribune Co. -- about forming a consortium based on charging for distributed content, both online and on mobile devices.
Chief Digital Officer Jonathan Miller is positioning News Corp. as a sensible leader in the effort to start collecting fees from online readers because of its success with the Wall Street Journal Online, which maintains more than 1 million paying subscribers, each of whom fork over $103 a year.
Now, if you agree with media entrepreneur Steve Brill, Murdoch's mission is actually to save professional journalism from what he calls "a form of group suicide." Brill himself -- along with former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz, and Leo Hindery, the former head of Tele-Communications, Inc. -- recently embarked on a venture to help publishers charge readers for full access to Web sites, single articles or packages of related content.
Likewise, newspaper and technology consultant Alan Mutter is currently pitching an online registration service that would track Web users as they read articles on an array of publisher sites.
But, while perhaps able to be perceived as honest brokers, neither Brill nor Mutter have anywhere near the clout of Murdoch and his minions. What's more, his timing is perfect as industry-wide ad revenue fell 28% in the first quarter of 2009, according to the nonprofit Newspaper Assn. of America -- due in large part to the recession.
Still, anyway you slice it, the movement equates to a vote of no confidence for online advertising, which after about 10 years, has yet to amount to more than 12% of newspaper's revenue. For sure, along with the publishers themselves, marketers and agencies are partly to blame for this failure.