I said pretty much all that I have to say about paying for online news last month, when I criticized David Carr’s suggestion of “an iTunes for news.” But the notion of micropayments — click and, say, a penny or a nickel or a dime is automatically deducted from your bank account — has suddenly gotten a boost. Unfortunately, the idea is a non-starter.
Walter Isaacson, the former editor of Time magazine, and Alan Mutter, a respected news-industry blogger, have both come out in favor of micropayments. Isaacson even made it on to “The Daily Show” last night, trading quips with Jon Stewart. All this comes amid an ongoing meltdown in the newspaper business. It’s gotten so serious that a number of publishers have started a rah-rah PR campaign called the Newspaper Project, the purpose of which is to — well, it’s hard to say.
So rather than repeat what I said a month ago, I’ll simply call your attention to a splendid op-ed in today’s New York Times by Michael Kinsley, the founding editor of Slate, who points out that the news in newspapers has always been free:
Newspaper readers have never paid for the content (words and photos). What they have paid for is the paper that content is printed on. A week of The Washington Post weighs about eight pounds and costs $1.81 for new subscribers, home-delivered. With newsprint (that’s the paper, not the ink) costing around $750 a metric ton, or 34 cents a pound, Post subscribers are getting almost a dollar’s worth of paper free every week — not to mention the ink, the delivery, etc.
And by the way, I once owned one of the Slate umbrellas to which Kinsley refers. If it hadn’t fallen apart at the first gust of wind, I might have it still.
I’m as concerned about how to pay for the news as anyone, but I think it’s pretty clear what doesn’t work.