February 7, 2012
Mathew Ingram at GigaOm stomps all over the idea that the “original sin” of newspapers was to put their content online for free. I contend that it was never so simple as free or not-free. Newspapers have long experimented with paywalls, but abandoned them because they did not work.
Ingram points out that many newspapers give away their content in print, and make their profit from advertising. So free content online is valid business model. The problem is that increases in online ad revenue have yet to make up for decreases in print ad revenue.
If anything, the original sin of newspapers was a failure to appreciate all the ways in which the internet was going to fundamentally change the nature of their business, and a failure to try and adapt to those changes quickly enough. In some ways, trying to perpetuate the old model of charging for their content — in the case of classified ads, for example — delayed that process of adaptation, and thereby allowed someone without preconceived notions about the marketplace (namely, Craigslist founder Craig Newmark) to win without even trying to disrupt the media industry.
If only — if only — newspapers had thought of free classified ads first.