John Lanchester provides new insight on news payment debate

John Lanchester has written an extremely readable and thoughtful piece in the London Review of Books about the newspaper industry and the whole payment debate. It’s already been heavily Tweeted and linked, but it’s worth as wide an airing as possible. It’s full of great facts – I particularly liked…

The Beeb has £4.6 billion in revenue and generates a world of content, while BSkyB has £5.9 billion and generates naff all.

… and Lanchester is certainly not just another voice bemoaning change, this is a serious attempt to engage.

What’s really good about this is the understanding of the cultural and political role a vibrant press can, and I would argue should, play. Much of the debate about journalism on the net seems to miss the point that journalism cannot only be judged by how much revenue it generates. Lanchester talks about the press being…

a necessary component of modern democracy

… when it does its job properly, and rightly raises the issue of what happens to society if we concede that journalism is commercial or nothing. He also provides some much-needed perspective about the scale of the problem and a blunt assessment of the costs of producing a print product. He’s realistic enough to observe that…

The fact that newspapers are necessary, however, does not mean that they will survive

…and it’s clear that he thinks their survival is important. I agree with him that if someone can come up with an easy, straightforward method of paying for content – iTunes for copy if you like – then there’s a chance a pay model could work. I’m not so sure I agree that it could work for news though, but there’s certainly an opportunity with specialist content and analysis. I’m also not sure his observation that…

if newspaper readers are older, they will be more willing to pay

…gives us a viable model. Basing your business plan on an ageing audience? I wouldn’t invest.

But it’s something that Lanchester says in his conclusion that really makes this piece stand out.

Walls are not the way forward, but walls are not the same thing as payment, and without some form of payment, the press will not be here in five years’ time.

This is key. Much of the debate about the media business assumes those of who work in and consume media are passive players, waiting to be shaped by the evolution of technology. This is no more true in the media than it is in any other walk of life. It’s people who shape history, and how we move forward must be based on a mixture of what we want as well as what we are led to do.

#newmedia #print #newspapers #Journalism #publishing

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