Sunday, March 25, 2007

Antitrust man responds

David Lazarus, whose original column suggesting an antitrust exemption for beleaguered newspapers brought a heated reaction from here and elsewhere, has written his own response. Among the lines:

Thanks to Google, I'm able to stay abreast of what's said about my work online. Dozens of bloggers weighed in on my earlier column, and not one -- not one -- did a lick of original reporting in challenging my ideas.
Well sir, let's see. I research these kinds off issues almost every day -- have been since I left AP. I established and help run a citizen-journalism site and have written extensively about it. I've been on numerous panels and converse, electronically and otherwise, with others in the field.

So, no, I did not pick up a phone and call six people because I already was deeply involved in it.
Or, if that won't do, how about considering John Robinson, a working editor of a working newspaper, and his comments.

Please do some more reporting before making such absurd statements.

As for this statement:
The main point of my earlier column was that newspaper content has value. Once you acknowledge that, you have to acknowledge that newspaper Web sites are giving away something valuable in exchange for ... what?
My point was that much of what current newspapers do is NOT valuable. It is formula news. Their value model has been one of aggregation and control of distribution, not content. That's why it is falling apart. The rationale for monopoly is to protect, for society's benefit, intellectual undertaking. I'm flat out saying that much of the news business has lost that rationale simply by what it puts out every day.

There will be new aggregation and distribution models developed -- people are not going to spend all day clicking and there is real and economic efficiency. But an antitrust exemption is nothing more than a desperate attempt to prop up an increasingly archaic model, one with -- I hate to say it -- increasingly dubious social value (and by that I mean the distribution and production model that has characterized newspapers as manufacturers, not service businesses).

But don't believe me because I obviously don't do reporting. Let's try John Morton and Miles Groves, two of the premier analysts of the industry who are out there daily doing their own form of reporting. Here's what they say in their final newsletter (PDF) that, in a bit of irony -- or desperation -- leads with a piece suggesting that newspapering is "Passing the Tipping Point":

Long term growth and market share are sacrificed for short-term earnings growth and increasing profit levels. Until the recent advertising slow-down many analysts considered it a winning strategy. ... This has hampered the strategic decisions necessary for the industry shift from a product manufacturing bent to one positioned to serve today's communities. Instead of producing and delivering daily amounts of "ink on crushed wood" to increasingly technically savvy households, publishers need to be leveraging local market goodwill and marketing technology to strengthen and build the quality of their brand through better serving their communities. ...

Sadly, the "straw-man of failure" provides a barrier that industry stakeholders have not been able to shake. Instead of making the technology, personnel, marketing, and product investments critical for success, industry leaders have accepted that desirable circulation declines are inevitable .

And this is from two people who are among the biggest fans of the newspaper industry. (And thanks to Alan Mutter for the pointer.)

The argument actually can be made that people have never really paid for news. Most publications' circulation revenue is far less than the ad dollars. What is leaving newspapers is not just the readers, but the advertisers -- that's the critical thing. No walled garden will solve that.

Yes, by all means, David, increase the value of your content. Then, let's talk.

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