Monday, January 25, 2010

Guardian editor Rusbridger warns against "turning away from a world of openly shared content"

Alan Rusbridger, executive editor of The Guardian delivered his arguments against deploying pay walls as he delivered the Annual Hugh Cudlipp Lecture at the London College of Communication.  "As an editor, I worry about how a universal pay wall would change the way we do our journalism," said Rusbridger.

His speech stood in sharp contrast to the views expressed by Rupert Murdoch during his famous Sky News interview where he advocated erecting pay walls for his publications.

I would recommend reading the entire lecture as I think it was well reasoned and, I believe, presents the free web content argument well.  Rusbridger does not, however, necessarily reject the concept of pay walls so much as conclude that the models do not work for The Guardian.

"My commercial colleagues at the Guardian – the ones who do think about business models – are very focused on that, want to grow a large audience for our content and for advertisers, and can't presently see the benefits of choking off growth in return for the relatively modest sums we think we would get from universal charging for digital content," Rusbridger said.

"They've done lots of modeling around at least six different pay wall proposals and they are currently unpersuaded. They're looked at the argument that free digital content cannibalizes print – and they look at the ABC charts showing that our market share of paid-for print sales is growing, not shrinking, despite pushing aggressively ahead on digital. They don't rule anything out. But they don't think it's right for us now."

Rusbridger also spoke about mobile media and conceded that change is occurring at a very quick pace.

"On mobile, we're all at the start of an experiment that is fascinating but unknown. We had no clue what, if anything, to charge for the Guardian's iPhone app when we launched it at the end of 2009. We settled for £2.39 and sold 70,000 in the first month. It's one clue to the future, not an epiphany, " said Rusbridger.

"This year will see a fascinating struggle for dominance between the Kindle, the Sony reader, Plastic Logic's Que, the Skiff Reader and LG's 19-inch bendy e-journal. They may all have (if they don't already) significant revenue opportunities. Things are moving so fast that these remarks may be out of date by Wednesday, when Apple is expected to launch something between an iPhone and a Kindle."

Rupert Murdoch, chairman of News Corp.,  presented a much different point of view in his Sky News interview which can be seen below.  Murdoch has announced that wants to see pay walls erected for all his news web sites and Murdoch's flagship UK paper, The Times, has blocked their content from a British aggregator in preparation for launching their paid service.