Another Way for Newspapers to Not Die

Not long ago, we posted here about the supposedly desperate future of newspapers. Now here’s a S.F. Chronicle column by Peter Scheer saying the same thing I tried to say, but Scheer says it better: i.e., if the future of newspapers is so bleak, why are so many smart people rushing to buy them? (The list includes Jack Welch, David Geffen, and as of today, Hank Greenberg.)

But the most interesting point in Scheer’s article is his proposal for how newspapers can protect their value: by placing a 24-hour embargo on their original reporting, not allowing it to appear on free Internet sites until a newspaper’s paying customers have had first crack at it.

“The point is not to remove content from the Internet,” Scheer writes, “but to delay its free release in that venue. A temporary embargo, by depriving the Internet of free, trustworthy news in real-time, would, I believe, quickly establish the true value of that information. Imagine the major Web portals — Yahoo, Google, AOL and MSN — with nothing to offer in the category of news except out-of-date articles from ‘mainstream’ media and blogosphere musings on yesterday’s news. Digital fish wrap.”

Imagine the uproar if Scheer’s proposal were to become real. We are all very spoiled, getting the world’s best news delivered to us, free and instantly. And it is very hard to make people pay for something they’re used to getting for free. (Just ask AOL; on the other hand, we pay plenty now for bottled water.) From what I know, most newspapers are moving in the opposite direction that Scheer supports. But it is a very intriguing idea, maintaining the value of a besieged commodity simply by shifting the time frame of its use.

It takes a lot of time and a lot of money to produce good reporting. Most people who consume good reporting don’t seem to know this, or care to know it. But they will certainly figure it out if the good reporting begins to disappear because media owners can no longer provide the kind of product we’ve become accustomed to getting for free. Somehow I can’t see U.S. citizens willing to support the reporting tax that the U.K. levies to support the BBC. Compared to that tax, a 24-hour Internet embargo looks mighty cheap.


It's an obvious solution theoretically, but is it doable? Doesn't the success of this depend on

1)the willingness of all news providers to join in the embargo

2)the ability to enforce widely ignored copyright law

If I subscribe to the Boston Globe, am I to be expected not to share what I learn in its pages for 24 hours?

It all sounds unrealistic to me.


1. This would be a detriment to consumers.
2. Print media is not the only source creating original (news) content. Shall television stop reporting the news? The web already has a vast news reporting contigentm independent of newspaper.
3. Why protect the interest of newspapers, but hurt the value of online entities?

Matthew Moore


It seems to me that people aren't so much purchasing timely news that happens to be delivered via paper, but are subscribing on a per use basis to a news channel precisely because its medium is paper and is available in its specific class of locations.

I'd focus sales on outlets near to long train/air/coach/taxi journeys, and to areas where people spend their mornings preferring to read papers than cruising the web at cybercafes.

I would not worry about web clients cannibalising paper sales. An embargo simply hands revenue to independent web sites.

Better for papers to provide full and condensed web feeds to retain their loyal readers' custom - they'll buy the same paper if their mobile indicates it's worth buying on a particular day.

That way you'll get web based news feeds inspired to produce their own papers in order to provide the same breadth of service.


This is a great idea. Why just 24 hrs ? Make it 6 months. It works for movies and DVDs.


The concept is unworkable. There are too many sources of news (with reporters and all), and many of them have access to an immediate channel. So, a 20 minute delay between live broadcast and internet visibility is enough for them. Further, there is a lot of value in being the purveyor of "hot off the presses" news through whatever medium people choose. CNN, Fox, MSNBC, BBC, etc, each want you to think of them 1st when you want news (if you hear of a breaking story and are not near a TV, whose site do you rush too?) So, all the newspapers do by delaying their news is make themselves even more irrelevant.
Newspapers will survive for the same reason that movies survived after TV arrived, and TV survived after Videotapes/DVD arrived, etc. The experience of reading a newspaper is different and more flexible than reading a web page (including scanning for interesting articles, etc). Further, they can offer content and perspective. Yes, blogs can replace some of that, but not all. Further newspapers still have the market on local news.



i don't see how it could work unless TV stations also embargoed their news. i think most people would be willing to wait a day for less-than-breaking news, like investigative reporting or news analysis or op-eds. that's what people read papers for, anyway. for breaking news we all turn on the TV.

Charles Bronson

All this 'embargo' would do is hurt the readership of the newspapers' online publication. You can't stop the news, people will just get it from other, non-paper sites.

It's like the RIAA trying so hard to stop music downloads. If the media dinosaurs don't start embracing technology rather than wildly attempting to stop it, well, the dinosaurs will die.


This wouldn't work for a great many reasons:

1) Piracy would run rampant. Much like copies of movies hit the internet as soon as the first pre-release screeners start to circulate, these news articles would still be online as soon as they're published, the big difference would be that The Pirate Bay would be getting the traffic rather than (Note that Hollywood is moving in the opposite direction for the same reason, slowly migrating away from stagnated release windows).

2) Why are we trying to save dead tree papers anyway? There will always be a market for news, people are just opting to consume it differently than they had before. Rather than stubbornly fight the market, flow with it. Build up a really great news portal and do the things that drive traffic there: Give bloggers a good reason to link there and make it easy to do so, give users a reason to stay on the site, etc)

3) You'd just be ceding the market to other players. I wouldn't start buying papers if this happened, I'd just look for the sources that do give me up to date news, probably bloggers, who'd be happy for the surge in traffic.



Wired Magazine already does this, releasing stories from their current issue over a couple weeks.

It works well for Wired, as the articles are timely but not to the day. I think all it would do for a newspaper is allow competition to rush in to fill the void.

Bruce G Charlton

Some mistake, surely - linking the BBC with 'good reporting'? The BBC only reports 'reactions' to news, not the news itself.


I dunno how the free market economy works but... Suppose *all* the online newspapers delay reporting. Then we have this user base that is used to on-the-fly reporting of news but now the news is gone.

Wouldn't someone rich come along and say, "There is zero competition in the instant news, and the barrier to entry isn't that great... lemme deliver news online the way people want it!" And if they figure out how to monetize all the new online traffic since everyone who wants instant news will go there, and all the newspapers would go back to reporting news online the way we want it.

or, people will just use google news and read news from other places.


A 24 embargo would never work for several reasons:

1. Cable television: CNN provides real-time news and is available to most educated people (the same people who would follow current events). CNN would suffice the demand until the free news is published 24 hours later.

2. It would only work if every newspaper did it. If the Washington Post decided not to delay the posting of articles, but The New York Times did, then all NYT readers would log onto the Post's web site (at least for national news) and the Post would make a killing in advertising.

3. Headlines suffice the demand for real-time news. People don't need the in-depth story immediately. They will wait 24 hour for that. They just want the facts of real time news so that they are not in the dark.


I agree with point number 3 above. I don't see the value added by the kind of reporting that most people want to see preserved (the in-depth, time and money consuming kind) as its timeliness. I see the value in its thoughtfulness and thoroughness. I presume that most e.g., Pultizer-winning reporting is based on days, weeks, months, years of reporting on the story that is available in real-time from the AP feed.

In fact, I find weekly reading of The Economist and The New Yorker much more valuable than daily reading of the New York Times. Those magazines are able to (or, at least attempt to) separate the signal from the noise. To me, a focus on that goal will keep newspapers alive.


if you put tap water in a bottle, it would be bottled water.

carrying tap water is not that convenient.


I've been following the 'dead' newspaper business (rumors greatly exaggerated and all) for a while now. I find it fascinating how an industry so seemingly tailor-made for the web can be so backward in its web strategies.

For generations now, news on paper has been about as close to free as possible, in spite of its burdensome medium. Largely subsidized by ads, it's the eyeballs that count, 'page views' so to speak -- the higher the readership, the higher the revenues. And all this in spite of the high marginal costs associated with publishing and distribution.

In the comments above, there are quite a few reasons outlined for why this 'embargo' idea is ludicrous. skishoo2, ejp1082 and 58saavedra make some good points about why this shouldn't happen, but the best analysis regarding why this just wouldn't happen comes from Techdirt:

The bottom line is, even if, by some miracle, all of these competeting outfits summoned up the will to band together, the hole left by these players packing up and going home would be backfilled in a timespan measured in days, if not hours.

Sure, quality counts for something. But breaking news is defined by headlines. If you want deeper coverage, you've always had to turn to slower, more methodical sources anyway. Most newspaper articles, particularly the time-sensitive, are nothing more than a summary anyway -- a jumping off point. On the web, it's a whole lot easier to take a leap or two to find out more. In fact, that just happens to be one of the WEB's fundamental building blocks, good ol' . If only someone would tell that to Peter Scheer and his buddies...



Ideas like this are just about the best argument that newspapers WILL die. There's no way they can turn off (or even delay) the flow of information; that's just a bid for irrelevance.

The way forward for newspapers is to become the hub where information is exchanged. That means embracing the blogosphere, and social news sites -- and it means immediacy.

PS go amit! 1oz of humor is worth like a metric ton of manifesto ;)


you know, slashdot has employed a similar model for years now, allowing paid subscribers to see stories a few minutes earlier than non-paying users. while 24 hours might be a little extreme, variations on this idea have merit.

thats not to say that i don't think physical newspapers will become extinct (they will, soon), or that i approve of subscription walling (as with nyt), but that there are effective business models for newspapers in the future.


From four and half years ago...


You are amazed when you see portals such as with thousands of worldwide press at the fingertips .. free! ..

On the other hand, publishers are getting more population for their ads, but less revenue from direct paper sales.


It's an obvious solution theoretically, but is it doable? Doesn't the success of this depend on

1)the willingness of all news providers to join in the embargo

2)the ability to enforce widely ignored copyright law

If I subscribe to the Boston Globe, am I to be expected not to share what I learn in its pages for 24 hours?

It all sounds unrealistic to me.