Continued collapse of the information system: two more dead canaries

Two significant pieces of news today:  Google’s earnings (and stock price) are down, and Newsweek has given up on a paper edition.The Newsweek story is only the latest step down a path to oblivion, as the digital edition cannot survive financially either and will close down in turn.

This is happening because the business models for  providing content have collapsed.  Newsweek is one dying gasp of a hybrid system whereby content could be  denied to anyone who didn’t pay for a physical object, and the attention of readers therefore sold to advertisers who could be assured that (i) anyone reading the story on left-hand page 32 would see the nice big ad on page 33 and (ii) cared enough to plunk down  50c or so for the magazine.  Google is a different animal, that sells ads with the promise that people seeing the ad had shown some interest in the type of product on offer.   What made Newsweek worth buying was the expensive expertise of its authors and editors and the expense accounts on which the former could get stories; what makes Google run is the utility of its search engine, maps, and other cool stuff, that we pay for by tolerating the crappy little ads that appear on tiny patches of a screen about the size of  a two-page Newsweek spread, but cluttered with a bunch of other stuff. Or the infuriating big ads that pop up all over what you’re trying to read, infinitely more intrusive than advertising in old print media. That these ads aren’t a substitute for what print ads used to do is evidenced by how long ago it was that you clicked on one, and that the whole deal manifestly isn’t working out for Google.

Dead-tree media were a kludge, but a kludge that worked reasonably well: we had a lot of high-quality news, political analysis, features, and fiction, made by experts with time to spend at their craft.  Now we have whatever dying corpse phase Newsweek will pass through, and online/paper newspapers whose content is a fraction of what it used to be and whose numbers are sinking like a stone (remember the Seattle Post-Intelligencer?).  Top-line newspapers used to have foreign bureaus all over the world; now the Washington Post, a decaying zombie of a great (flawed, but great) newspaper trying to cling to status as a national journal, has the shamelessness to run a little map showing its overseas news offices that reveals one for all of South America, in Bogotá. One? And, where?  Brazil has a population of almost 200m who speak Portuguese, not Spanish, and is about as big as the USA with a per capita income above $10,000. Probably no important news from a backwater like that, right?  And it’s 2700 miles from Bogotá to São Paulo.

Now we also have pretty exciting new stuff.  For example, here – I mean here, right in front of you _ is a medium that almost anyone can publish in and anyone else can access for free. I love it, but if you think what you are reading now is a substitute for real news or commentary from a professional full-time journalist on the scene  (any scene) you are daft or radiantly ignorant. This content is an incidental spinoff from a paid job doing something related, but different: real journalism is done by people paid and trained to do that.  Paywalls have not made it possible for content providers to pay creators what their work really costs, and never will, for several reasons, only one of which is the readiness of a kid in Bulgaria or Finland to crack any DRM scheme.

We used to have physical books that were awkward to carry around but pleasant to read and easy to lend to a friend: to get one you had to pay enough to cover the physical embodiment and the time and effort of author, editor, and publisher. Now my phone has lots of books on it, lots more in the cloud on demand, and reading on a phone or tablet or screen is not bad.  Having a library in my pocket is truly awesome; the only important limit on my reading now, almost anywhere, is my time. No more rationing travel reading by backpack weight.   Same for music, sports, and movies. Watching a movie on a phone is, um, not so great, but I can easily get a tablet or computer screen to occupy the same visual angle as a theater movie screen and a lot more than a live opera stage from where I can afford to sit, or a baseball battery.  All good, but not good enough.  Not good enough, because the publishing business is a wreck, that can’t support enough good authors, or musicians – or Newsweek, or the New Orleans Times-Picayune, or even the New York Times. We are like Wile E. Coyote running in the air and not realizing what’s already ordained: he hasn’t accumulated much velocity yet but he’s accelerating downward at 32 ft/sec2.  Nor how important it is: looking forward to the 2016 or 2020 elections with no real print content other than what the odd blogger wants to put out for you?  Happy with the lame analytic political content this round is already suffering from?

The big problem here is the divergence between the cost of quality content and the price it should be sold for.  The former is as high as its ever been, maybe even a little higher because of Baumol disease, but the instant content moved to the web the right price became zero. Trying to sell it for a price that covers average cost means enormous waste, and may not even be possible, even though the total value it would create is vastly greater than its cost.

Nonprofits giving grants, underpaid writers doing their work for love, and the rags we still call newspapers give the illusion that we’re just going through an awkward adjustment period, but it’s an illusion. We are in big trouble. Content is the most important thing in the world; if we don’t figure out how to pay properly for it, we won’t have it.   Think climate stabilization is more important than art and political discourse?  OK, but what’s your scheme for getting any without news media?  Technology has given us lots more words than we used to have, but less and less that is worth reading and thinking about, and that can support public deliberation in a free society.

The rap on early cable TV used to be “99 channels and nothing on”; now we have hundreds of channels, nearly all crap, disappearing real, quality media, and hundreds and thousands of blogs that are mostly worthless especially if you don’t start with a real news source.  Valuable content is priced way above marginal cost, so millions of consumers who would benefit from it on net won’t get at it: my cable company proposes to charge me $20 a month to listen to the Globo TV channel from Brazil, probably about a dollar an hour of use!.  I’m willing to pay for a subscription to one or two newspapers (even though that’s much higher than the efficient price), but the real payoff from the web should be that I can read two newspapers’ worth of content from a dozen newspapers, and to do that as paywalls spread I face ridiculous, absurd per-article prices.  Or I have to buy a dozen subscriptions, which will never happen, so the newspapers will fail economically and die.  I don’t get content that would create net value for me, and the providers and creators don’t see a real price signal of what their stuff is worth.

We have solved this problem before: outside my house is a sidewalk that cost something to make and that I don’t pay to walk on.  Information is a little more complicated, because while the city does well enough deciding what to make the sidewalk out of and how wide it should be, I don’t want it choosing my content (or keeping track of what I’m reading).  But whining about how content is property, or yelling “socialism” at a public goods scheme for distributing content free and paying for it according to how much it’s used, is infantile behavior and profoundly dangerous for everything – everything – that makes life worth living.

Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

34 thoughts on “Continued collapse of the information system: two more dead canaries”

  1. Top-line newspapers used to have foreign bureaus all over the world; now the Washington Post, a decaying zombie of a great (flawed, but great) newspaper trying to cling to status as a national journal, has the shamelessness to run a little map showing its overseas news offices that reveals one for all of South America, in Bogotá. One? And, where? Brazil has a population of almost 200m who speak Portuguese, not Spanish, and is about as big as the USA with a per capita income above $10,000. Probably no important news from a backwater like that, right? And it’s 2700 miles from Bogotá to São Paulo.

    I’m not really sure they’re necessary or desirable anymore. Why send expensive American reporters who can’t speak the local languages and have to work through handlers, when you could potentially partner with local news sources and swap stories? That’s only going to get easier, too, as translation software gets more common (although that also might ease the language barrier issues). Sure, it’s not so hot in areas where the local people can be murdered and imprisoned, but in those societies the American reporters often get bundled through particular channels as well.

    The big problem here is the divergence between the cost of quality content and the price it should be sold for. The former is as high as its ever been, maybe even a little higher because of Baumol disease, but the instant content moved to the web the right price became zero. Trying to sell it for a price that covers average cost means enormous waste, and may not even be possible, even though the total value it would create is vastly greater than its cost.

    That’s not quite true. What happened was that the price of the first copy of something that can easily be digitally distributed became extremely high, then the cost of duplicating it became almost zero. Assuming that you can’t enforce patent/copyrights well, you need a system where one, some, or all of the below apply-

    1. The creator gets paid once for completing a work, then it’s free to use afterwards. Think of how musical “commissions” used to work before copyright.

    2. There’s some way to sell it in pieces, even if you only get to sell each piece once. Lots of novels used to be sold chapter-by-chapter in newspapers, for example.

    3. The easily distributed stuff is just something to sell the distribution system, which still costs money. It’s what Apple does with hardware, and what the cable guys would like to be able to do.

    I’m willing to pay for a subscription to one or two newspapers (even though that’s much higher than the efficient price), but the real payoff from the web should be that I can read two newspapers’ worth of content from a dozen newspapers, and to do that as paywalls spread I face ridiculous, absurd per-article prices. Or I have to buy a dozen subscriptions, which will never happen, so the newspapers will fail economically and die. I don’t get content that would create net value for me, and the providers and creators don’t see a real price signal of what their stuff is worth.

    I’ve read some arguments using this as a reason to advocate for “blanket licenses” of content, such as authors like Robert Levine. The trick would be in getting a variety of content rights-holders to get on board.

  2. 1. We pay for the infrastructure of the Internet already on a subscription basis, not per use, and that works quite well; though the scam problem would go away at even a microscopic per-message fee. An earmarked tax on Internet subs might be way forward, rebated to students and the poor.
    2. Kindle and iTunes manage quite well, mainly by offering convenience. Sure, the teenage hackers can get the same content for free, but enough of us will pay for the model to work. Part of the problem is that a newspaper is a bundle of stuff most of which a given reader will ignore. Micropapers for 5c? Cf. Addison and Steele’s Spectator of 1711.
    3. The classifieds were a significant part of newspaper revenue. That’s going too, and no reason to resurrect it.

  3. And it’s in this context that Romney calls for privatizing NPR.

    Content is a public good, and if the market fails to provide it, that’s supposed to be what government is for.

  4. I’m not sure you’r right to lump Google’s lower revenues in with the structural problem facing paid reporting. So far as I know, Google is still very profitable, even if they did miss their projections. Yes, the price paid to them per click declined by 15% – but the number of clicks they were paid on went up 33%, and they completely dominate mobile browser ads.

    I was very surprised to learn that Apple gets a cut of the ad revenue whenever an ad is clicked on an iOS device.

  5. 1. I guess the difference between news content and a sidewalk is that peopel have many more different ideas about what news content should be than they do about a sidewalk. (waah, liberal bias! etc.)
    2. Firthermore, I choose to disagree with your gloominess and pretend that everything is going to work out fine. Professionally, there will be modest local media and a handful of global media and content that is generated for free will make up for the rest, with professional journalism not beinb as important as you suggest.

  6. We are fossils here, three papers on the driveway every morning (NYT, WaPo, WSJ). To scratch the magazine itch, we get Economist and New Yorker and Atlantic. Even the ones we read will never stay afloat because of us – we are pretty much the only family on our block with more than one paper, most get none. How to pay them? The iTunes model is maybe the best, PayPal drops its transaction fee and I can put 25¢ to the LA Times to read their latest about Cali pensions and they get it.

  7. I used to subscribe to two different newspapers, based on the fact that they WERE different. Stopped after the JOA made them the same newspaper with two names.

    Newsweek hasn’t been different enough from Time to care one bit for as long as I can remember. It was inevitable that one of these cojoined twins would go down eventually. The other will follow soon enough, doctor’s waiting rooms can’t be buying THAT many copies.

    Now, Google has some problems, mainly relating to their failure to properly deal with link aggregators gaming the algorithm. Oh, and their increasingly politicized refusal to allow Google shopping to work for some perfectly legal products. But they’re nowhere near as troubled as the print media. No real comparison.

    1. i’ve never subscribed to either magazine. i still take two newspapers, my local city paper plus the paper from the nearest metro area, and they’re different enough to make it worthwhile. i probably get 60+% of my news from npr programming and another 20% from various websites and another 10% from the magazines i do subscribe to. that leaves less than 10% coming from the newspapers which means i’m spending a lot for a little but i do think it’s worth it to help continue paying for journalism. i subscribe to “harpers,” “texas monthly,” “science,” and “mother jones” btw.

  8. A lot of the issues can be analyzed in terms of utility law. Mills, turnpikes, and common carriers have all been regulated for many centuries according to a very pragmatic and sensible common law that developed adaptively (darwinistically, that is — what was successful persisted).

    We could apply many of the principles of utility and common carrier law to solve market hitches in the supply of public goods, from health coverage to Internet content.

    Unfortunately are limited in our ability to avail ourselves of useful ideas due to ideological freakishness and intransigence from the R side. (The Far Side?)

      1. Well, one aspect of turnpikes and mills that’s similar to the information superhighway (remember when we all used to call it that!?) is the monopoly on the infrastructure. A mill or a bridge had a natural monopoly — a very advantageous position for the private operator or owner — on an essential public service. Thus, price regulation on the miller’s fees, or on the turnpike tolls, came into being for the public’s sake.

        How could this be applied analogously to aspects of information distribution? I haven’t thought it through, but it could well be a useful area to explore. I can see some creative policy mind thinking of a breakthrough, much as in the case the concept of buying transportation instead of buying a car, which evidently is some kind of wave of the future.

        1. I’m having a bad allergy day, so I’m not so fast. But, would there be a way for several good newspapers to join together and have a joint fee? Would that help with the per-article cost problem O’Hare brings up?

          Or did they already try that and fail (maybe in the 90s)?

          I’m with those who still believe in Old Media. And I don’t even think it’s the paper that’s the difference. It’s the ethical standards. I know if a print reporter lies, or is too sloppy, there will be some kind of consequence. This is totally absent on the web and I don’t really know about tv, since it’s so fluffy, how would you even know what was a lie?

  9. Isn’t this the same blog that denounces political reporting as spineless he said, she said drivel, without actual fact checking? Why would I pay for that? Are you saying I should get Pravda too?

  10. I disagree somewhat. Michael is right as far as news is concerned, but Internet commentary is far better than the “grownup” stuff. I gave up on op-ed pages years ago: dessicated fossils, full of self-importance. Magazines are better, to the extent they don’t grant tenure. In Blogistania, a far more competitive environment than either, the cream quickly rises to the top. The barriers to entry are higher than they used to be, but mediocrity is still punished.

  11. Yeah, I’m sentimental about dead-tree media, and we definitely lose something with its decline, but in the end, I’ll take the trade. I’m better-informed now than I was.

    1. The sidewalk example is not a good one for the public good financing argument.

      For example, in Los Angeles the sidewalks are falling apart due to no maintenance–and the City’s decision fifty or sixty years ago to plant sidewalk destroying ficus trees everywhere. For a long time the City Council has just plain refused to pay to fix sidewalks, claiming it was really the abutting homeowners’ responsibility because the City said so. Now, the City has gotten slapped with several suits under the Americans with Disabilities Act for failing to meet it responsibilities to keep access to sidewalks available to, for example, wheelchair users, the elderly, etc. In the end, the City Council just doesn’t want to pay for sidewalks.

      Much the same situation is found elsewhere, Sacramento and Chicago come to mind. Chicago is interesting becausne it has pretty good sidewalks which were originally built to excellent standards (unlike L.A. where cheap was good on original sidewalks). But, again, big efforts to force homeowners to do what is a City responsibility, maintain sidewalks. Chicago claims homeowners have the legal responsibility to shovel the sidewalks in front of their property.

      Back to the professional media payment issue–I don’t see government paying for it–and where this is done (Mexico and Russia, for example) the results are not good.

      But, you are right. Some way to pay for professional journalism is needed. What it is (or if there is any workable way under the present distribution setup) remains to be seen.

      1. H, it is SO nice to see someone here who cares about LA. I know most folks here aren’t local, so it’s fine. But this city is in so much trouble, and the voters are so very apathetic, and our government is so very dysfunctional, that I rejoice at every small crumb. The sidewalks are just the smallest part of the wrongness here. I never thought I’d say it, but we need another political party here. I can’t stand the Green Party, and I also have issues with libertarians — who’d be exactly the kind of help we don’t need anyway — that I *almost* reluctantly conclude that it might be the GOP that’s needed. The one from 30 years ago maybe. Because then, maybe the Democrats would act like Democrats again. That, and massive reorganization of the charter. The last time was a nice try but did not work.

        Or, maybe we should break it up. I’m not sure.

        1. NCG:

          The City of L.A. is not really in so much trouble–except for misallocation of funds and efforts . The SC area is very wealthy compared to most everywhere else. The government in L.A. is run by “business” Democrats who often talk as though they are somewhat to the left–but, are not. The average voter has no realistic way to be reasonably informed–and the dying papers don’t do much to help.

          If you think that the Republicans would do better–haven’t been paying attention (inset smiley face here). Take former Mayor Riordan-likes to bike, saved the Original Panty–didn’t do anything worthwhile as Mayor. Now carps from the sidelines about stuff such as pensions he should have taken on when he had some power. And, he is the best of the bunch. Most Republican candidates in L.A. area appear to be businessman type suckers who think spending a ton of their own money will get them elected–Meg Whitman style.

          Wish I had a solution.

          Big problem is the apathetic voters (and non-voters). How to fix it? Don’t know. In the old days the machines told Eastern and Mid-Western voters how to vote and got them out to the polls. In California there are only multi color mailings and TV ads.

          As long as real estate developers, card dealers, billboard companies and unions are big and necessary (from the officials’ viewpoint) donors not much is likely to change. Public financing of campaigns. Nice idea, would do much good, probably going nowhere.

      2. For the flip side to Russia and Mexico, consider the BBC. I think it is possible for a government to fund good quality reporting, but it requires broad acceptance of the idea that an informed electorate is a good thing. I’m not sure we have that in the United States.

        1. Given all the hubbub about the relatively small amount of NPR’s budget covered by the Govt. and all the claptrap about its “liberal bias”, I’d have to agree. . .

    2. This is more important than is being admitted.

      This post is full of altogether too many assertions about how great the good old days were, with a fully-informed public.
      Exactly when were these good old days? When Hearst started the Spanish-American War? When newspapers informed isolationist America what was truly going on in Europe and Japan in the 30s? During the McCarthy era? When the Republicans started realizing how they could play the refs in the early 1980s and never get called on it? When most of the US press eagerly reported every lie of the Bush administration and cheered the march into Iraq?

      I lived the first half of my adult life in the ancien regime, reading what was in the papers and accepting it (not the facts, but the world view and the ethics it implied) as obviously correct — it was written elegantly by people who seemed smart and articulate. I’ve lived the second half in the new world, seeing people who are not as fast, and with a less polished turn of phrase, explain in oh so many ways how the world really works, and the gaps, false assumptions, and blatant lies of the fast talking professional journalists and politicians. The new world is VASTLY better.
      I refuse to buy newspapers for the same reason I refuse to watch TV news — not because I don’t want to be informed but precisely because I don’t want to be MISINFORMED.

      And yes, this has the potential to devolved into paranoid silos, one of the things Chris Hayes worries about in _Twilight of the Elites_. BUT the problem of the uninformed right is NOT a problem of blogs, it is a problem of Fox News and Limbaugh. Blogs left to themselves, without organized money pushing a constant party line, gets us back to the world of right wing nuttiness in the 60s. Depressing and foolish, yes, but not terrifyingly inhuman.
      Every way I look at this, I see vastly more negative on the side of the monied media than I see positive.

    3. I’m vastly better-informed than ever before, and immeasurably better entertained (including being entertained by writing and by long-form journalism). But I’m paying for none of that – not even the supposedly paywalled New York Times, though I would if their price weren’t so stratospheric – and it’s far from clear that anyone is really paying for the content I’m enjoying. Blogospheric commentary and snark is better than the dead-tree commentary and snark ever were, but there’s still no substitute for professional reporting by people who’ve got standards, contacts, credibility, deadlines, and editors.

  12. The roots of this mess were started into growth more than 15 years ago, back when the collaborative effort of banks, existing payment processors and regulators killed every single micropayment scheme that was being developed. (I still remember how one of the digital cash technologies died because a taken might consume a few thousand bits. We pass tracking cookies that size around without thinking twice.) That, it turn, killed the whole notion of paying what information might be “worth” because you had to price even the smallest sliver well over a buck just to deal with the processing costs.

    What Google has done, ironically, is to recreate those stillborn micropayment plans, only upside down and backwards. Instead of getting charged a fraction of a cent every time you read a page, you cause some poor sap of an advertiser to get charged, and the advertiser recoups the cost from anyone (including you) who eventually buys something from them. Meanwhile the page publisher gets the same fraction of a fraction of a cent they would have gotten, more or less. Sure, there are fewer advertisers than readers overall, so Google’s accounting database is an order or two of magnitude smaller, but on the other hand they have this whole matching and distribution network to maintain so that ads get served, so the whole thing is probably a very inefficient wash.

    (I’ve often wondered whether it would be possible for me to pay for my favorite web publications by setting up as a Google advertiser, with matching criteria arcane enough that my ads would show up when I was reading those pages. Then I could click on them and all would be well.)

  13. I guess I didn’t make the problem completely clear: it’s not about making small payments when you read something, it’s about your reading something causing a small payment to the author even when you are paying the correct price which is not small but zero(because there’s no less of it for everyone else when you read). Government doesn’t pay for sidewalks; government doesn’t pay for anything. Government is the device by which we have wisely decided to pay for sidewalks that aren’t used up when we walk on them, and therefore not practically sold by having pedestrians drop pennies in meters every couple of blocks, or having cops stop people and ticket those who can’t show a current sidewalk subscription pass.

    1. Sidewalks are infrastructure. Reporting is a commodity.

      Now I’m all for government-funded and owned and operated infrastructure, but with both railroads and telecommunications (which includes access to the internet) we decided that it was better to vest monopolies.

      But even if we created nationwide wifi that was “free” to the public, content would still be a commodity, a product, not part of the infrastructure.

      Eggs get to the grocer and to my home via roads and sidewalks that we’ve already paid for, but you don’t expect the eggs to be free because of that. Why would the content of a reporter’s story be different?

      1. Because if I eat an egg, there is one less egg for you, while if I read a blog post or listen to an mp3, there is no less of it for you. That’s not a trivial or incidental difference, it’s an enormous difference. And I don’t expect the reporter to be a philanthropist because of it.

        1. The same is true of education, but I don’t know of anyone who thinks that funding the building should also cover the professor’s wages.

          Instead of “subscription” we can call it “tuition.” Does that make it more palatable?

    2. Where do you get the idea that the “correct price” = “marginal cost”? That wasn’t any more the case with old “print” media than it is with new “digital media”. The “efficient” price is not the marginal unit cost, it’s the marginal unit revenue that (multiplied by the number of units demanded at that revenue) results in zero “economic profit” to the content provider (i.e. the price that covers all costs of production including a reasonable (but not excessive) return on capital invested. . .

      “Waste” happens when prices are too low just as much as when they are too high. . .

      1. I get that idea from every economist I’ve talked to, and every economics book I’ve ever read. I can’t think of a more universal and solid normative economic principle. Of course “cost” has to refer to all the resources consumed when something is used, not just the ones with money prices because they are sold in markets. Your second point is correct: when gasoline is sold too cheap because its price is below its total cost – a cost that includes not only getting oil and refining it and trucking it around and the gas station rent and the highway tax with which you buy the road to drive on, but also the climate, air pollution and congestion damages you impose by using it – we do indeed have waste.

        Things that are always true:

        All people are created equal with certain inalienable rights.
        Everything should be priced at marginal cost.
        Here we are!
        Now this.

        Now as to the old paper content system, I didn’t claim it was perfect, just that it sort of worked well enough.

  14. You are operating from a false conception. There is no such thing as “news.” The “news” organizations in the United States are either owned directly by the rich or controlled by them through the boards of directors. You are looking at the spot on the table cloth instead of the rotted ox that you have been served. It is all propaganda. “New’s” has always been propagandized.

    It has been this way for centuries.

    You look at the content of old newspapers versus what would later be found out about what actually happened, almost every time the “news” lied out and out or slanted it.

    You look at those beat up sold out has beens that have been pretending that what they did was important, not the rich choking the rest of the country to its knees.

    Drop it. The richest .001 percent of the United States own directly over 35 percent of all assets. They have control. Either drop it or turn to screaming about the atmosphere. That is what is important. The rich will always be able to buy their spot in the safety domes as the rest of the mammals disappear. Those 100 million Americans, that don’t have as much wealth as the single Walton family, won’t.

  15. You are operating from a false conception. There is no such thing as “news.” The “news” organizations in the United States are either owned directly by the rich or controlled by them through the boards of directors. You are looking at the spot on the table cloth instead of the rotted ox that you have been served. It is all propaganda. “New’s” has always been propagandized.

    It has been this way for centuries.

    You look at the content of old newspapers versus what would later be found out about what actually happened, almost every time the “news” lied out and out or slanted it.

    You look at those poor ‘beat up sold out never were’s’ that have been pretending that what they did was important in reporting the BS, not the rich choking the rest of the world to its knees.

    I don’t need a traditional sell out. Hire kids that are fresh from a damned honest university or college paper.

    Just drop it. The richest .001 percent of the United States own directly over 35 percent of all assets. They have control. Either drop it or turn to screaming about the atmosphere. That is what is important. The rich will always be able to buy their spot in the safety domes as the rest of the mammals disappear. Those 100 million Americans, that don’t have as much wealth as the single Walton family, won’t.

  16. The cable TV model or netflix model, which aggregates options, sells access for a bundled price, and distributes funds to the producers based on demand, represents one alternative to individual subscriptions. While there are complaints about bundling vs. a la carte pricing, the breadth of choice and the option of occasionally tuning into something on a rarely watched channel justifies the price. I pay for the NY Times and like getting the dead tree LA Times at home, and would pay something for the opportunity to get local content from Boston or Chicago or Denver or wherever a local story has become of interest to me. What I don’t want to have to do is subscribe separately to the Boston Globe, Chicago Times, Denver Post or the Sacramento Bee to follow its coverage of the legislature and state politics. Nor do I want to have to pay more than a few cents if I’m buying individual articles. I’ll read more material at zero marginal price after paying a lump sum for broad access.

    The same is probably true for magazines. I subscribe to a couple, read occasional content on the web of others, but would likely forgo an individual magazine subscription to read a couple of articles a year. Bundle a broad collection of magazines from which I’ll each read a couple of articles together under a single subscription, and you can get me to pony up. And what about tiered pricing. This set of magazines and sites, $x for access to 100 items/month, $y for 1000.

    My expectation of the future is more creative and effective web based advertising plus alternative subscription models.

  17. I stopped getting a print subscription a couple years ago because I had read so much of what I was interested in by the time it arrived in the morning, and because the online news ecosystem is so rich. Also, the physical waste of that weekly stack of paper and all transport processing it represented was just too much. I would be a digital subscription in theory but I am so overwhelmed with free options it’s really hard to justify. I guess some abstract “save the news” value would support that, but it’s a commons problem I suppose. Also, any one thing I could pay for is just such a small part of what I enjoy.

    Twitter is another issue in all this. If I had to pay $20 a month for access to the “progressive blogosphere” I’m pretty sure I would. But then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if I could adapt to getting most of the basic news nuggets and commentary I want on a day to day basis out of my twitter feed. And they are really strugging for a model to monetize that audience.

  18. “Everything should be priced at marginal cost.” – That implies that the sale of the first item must be sufficient to cover all of the fixed costs and no further profit can be made by any further sales. So, my first egg sells for the price of the chicken, the coop, the feed up to that point and so on. Who would buy that egg? Then, I have to sell each subsequent egg for the incremental price in feed, water and heat for the coup. How can I make money selling my second egg? Why would I bother? (The chicken farmers I know price their eggs based on the lifetime cost and egg productivity of their chickens, and they add a percentage for profit. Really, I actually do know chicken farmers. One is a retired naval engineer who likes chickens.)

    As for media, I do buy some subscriptions and throw some money in the tip jars of bloggers and media sites I like. I still buy my local paper, because no one else covers our small town and relatively unpopulated county. I’d buy a subscription to a news service that matched my ideology, but I’d like broader coverage than that offered by sites like Talking Points Memo. I never subscribed to a general interest magazine, largely because I read daily newspapers and didn’t need a weekly overview.

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