Should newspapers have a pay wall?

A recent post by Tim Porter about the New York Times’ for-pay service (known as Times Select) really struck a nerve, and while I commented on Tim’s post — and got a response back from him — I thought the issue deserved a post here as well, since it is a topic close to my heart as a newspaper journalist. Tim’s post was a response to this post by Mark Glaser of the PBS blog MediaShift, in which Mark wrote an open letter (based on Ronald Reagan’s speech in 1987 about the Berlin Wall) to Arthur Sulzberger of the NYT urging him to “Tear down this (Times Select) wall!”

As Mark pointed out in his post, walling up all the Times columnists such as Maureen Dowd separates them from the blogosphere, which in turn isolates the newspaper from the conversation that blogs and columnists should rightly be part of — and were part of, until the wall went up. Tim, however, argues in his post that this view is “wrong-headed” and says that the Times is doing exactly the right thing. As he puts it:

“The print business model cannot sustain journalism as we know it, so we must find new ways to pay for it. Charging for full access to the newspaper, like the Wall Street Journal does, is one option. Selling subscriptions to pure online journalism products like Salon or is another. Putting a price on the head of your most popular columnists, like the Time does, is yet another.”

Tim also points out that Times Select makes money, although the $9-million figure he uses is likely overstated (as he acknowledged in his response to my comment, and to Mark’s). He also notes that you can find columns by Maureen and other NYT columnists if you look around on the Internet — although I would argue that this is a little like telling people to download songs from pirate music sites instead of using iTunes. The newspaper that I work for pursues blogs and other sites that run the full version of columns and news stories for copyright violations.

As I said in my comment to Tim, there’s no question that a pay wall like Times Select can make money for a high-quality newspaper like the Times. The important question is, is it the right way to make money over the longer term? Or does it sacrifice the long-term value of having those columnists be part of the online conversation — getting links and commentary and traffic and all those other things the Web is so good at — in return for a short-term revenue boost?

I would argue the latter. And I’m not sure the sacrifice is going to be worth it. I think — and Mark seems to agree — that newspapers could probably make a whole lot more money by encouraging links and traffic and all those other community-based things, and monetizing those through advertising and other means. Could we be wrong? Sure we could. And maybe the Berlin Wall was a good thing too. But in the end, it came down, and we were all a lot better off.


Came across a post by Jeff Jarvis about a presentation made by Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, who had some comments about pay walls:

“On the Guardian we ignored all those who told us that we should be charging people to access our content online because we believed there was a greater prize to be won – both in influence and reach – if we built the best digital version of the paper we possibly could.”

Just sit down and do as you’re told

Television used to be something you pretty much had to watch, well… on your television. In one place. All at the same time. But the VCR changed that, and more recently the arrival of devices like the Slingbox have changed it even further, by allowing you to stream recorded TV to anywhere you want over the Internet — and that has made the entire broadcast industry very nervous.

An example of just how nervous came at the Digital Media Summit in Los Angeles, when a representative of Major-League Baseball told Sling Media that it didn’t particularly like the fact that viewers were moving games around and watching them in different places. Why would baseball care? Because the league — like other sporting leagues — sells broadcast rights based on geographical location, which explains why some cities are “blacked out” during the playoffs.

Slingbox threatens that whole structure, which in turn is the financial foundation for much of sport broadcasting. So MLB wants users to pay more for the right to move their programs around. As Carlo points out, however, it’s not like the viewers of those games are doing something illegal — they have already paid their cable or phone company. Why should they have to pay more just because they want to watch it on their laptop in the airport?

In many ways, the TV industry is fighting the same battle as the music industry. Illegal downloading is just the tip of the iceberg — for companies like Apple and record labels like Warner Music, the bigger issue is whether paying customers have the right to move their media to another location, or whether what they paid for was some kind of geographically-restricted (or format-restricted) use. As Mark Evans notes, the real battle is over who controls the media once it is paid for, the consumer or the content industry.

Memo to Lee: some books suck too

If Lee Gomes of the Wall Street Journal was Nick Carr, I would accuse him of trolling again, but since he isn’t I will assume that he actually fervently believes all the things he says in his WSJ column about the dangers of “mashup culture” and the imminent decline of civilization as we know it as a result of YouTube, etc.

Not surprisingly, Nick himself was all over this one like white on rice, since it fits right in with his thesis that interactivity is bad. Why? Because in Nick’s view it allows morons and mouth-breathers to clutter up the public discourse with their puerile thoughts, instead of leaving it up to smart people (like Nick, presumably) to determine what is discussed and how.

Lee’s approach, which as some have noted was likely sparked by John Updike’s recent outburst at BookExpo, is a variation on the “Digg is bad” or “YouTube is bad” theme — which in most cases consists of taking a random sample of the top stories at or the top videos at YouTube and making fun of how stupid they are. Like shooting fish in a barrel. And therefore, ipso facto, the Internet is a vast cesspool of morons, right?

I think Eric Schonfeld makes a good point, which is that much of what we now revere as art started as a “mashup” of other people’s art, and much of modern art and even literature was derided as crap in its early days (Joyce being just one example). For that matter, much of it actually is crap, just as much of what is on TV is crap. Plenty of books are crap too. So what? To say that this somehow invalidates interactivity is absurd.

It also doesn’t have to be an either/or question. Lee (doing some more Carr-like trolling) describes this new literary future by saying: “Imagine a long email message with responses and earlier messages included. We’ll have those in lieu of “Middlemarch” or “The Corrections.” That’s hogwash, and I’m sure Lee knows it. Then he contrasts videos with the top hits from the BBC, and says that the list of sitcoms (Fawlty Towers being number one) and talk shows are “weighty meals for the mind.” WTF?

In fact, now that I think about it, maybe Lee’s column is actually an elaborate satire. I wish that were true.

Next up — Google takes a run at Flickr

Let’s take a look at a hypothetical Google feature checklist: Web-mail? Check. Document editing? Check. Spreadsheets? Check. Calendar? Check. All that’s left (apart from maybe a presentation app like is a photo-sharing site. Which is kind of strange in a way, since Google’s image search is pretty popular, and storing and organizing photos seems like a bit of a no-brainer for the Googleplex. The company even has Picasa, which is a photo-organizing tool, but one with no online component whatsoever — it does have the integration with, a kind of instant messenger thing, but hardly anyone seems to use it.

That’s always seemed a little weird to me, as though Picasa was a three-legged dog. Not that there was anything wrong with it, it just seemed… incomplete somehow. Now it looks as though that missing piece will be coming soon, according to Google Blogoscoped, which spotted a tiny link on the Picasa home page to something called “Picasa Web Albums.” This is so obvious that I have no problem believing it is coming — the ability to take photos you have organized with Picasa and upload them seems like something we should have had a long time ago.

Will it offer all the same kinds of features as or Will it have tags and communities and Ajax editing and printing and all of that, or will it just be a giant repository like or Webshots? Google certainly has the storage space for just about anything. Here’s hoping it’s at least a little bit more interesting than Google Spreadsheets. All of the hubbub about Google seems to be driving Mike Arrington of TechCrunch a little mental.

Google Spreadsheet — so what?

So Google has a spreadsheet app (and yes, it’s called Google Spreadsheets — really creative name there, guys). Now let’s start the countdown to the presentation app (called Google Presentation, no doubt): here it comes in 10, 9, 8… oh, why not just buy and be done with it.

With the acquisition of, the launch of Google Calendar, and now the spreadsheet, the search behemoth with the $130-billion market cap has put together many of the same pieces as the Microsoft Office suite, which more than one person has noted makes up about 25 per cent of the software company’s revenue (it used to be about 40 per cent) and an even larger chunk of its profit as well.

The only question that remains unanswered is, so what? Don’t get me wrong — I think is a great app, and the mesh gang used it religiously when collaborating on the schedule for the conference. But you can’t export as a Word document, which means that no one is going to be able to use it as a business app (ThinkFree Office makes more sense for that).

Google Calendar is great too, and nicely integrated with Gmail, but I don’t see businesses standardizing on either one of them. So why is Google bothering — just to show that it can muscle in on markets too, as Paul Kedrosky says? Or is it just jumping on its horse and riding madly off in all directions, as Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock put it?

One thing is for sure, it’s not a great day to be JotSpot, NumSum or iRows — although they had to see this coming a mile down the road (or should have). And maybe Google Spreadsheet will have enough going for it, as Richard MacManus describes here, that it will become something more than a kind of half-assed Web version of Excel. Let’s hope so.


I’ve spent enough time on this blog telling Nick Carr when he’s wrong (which is quite often), I thought I should be fair and acknowledge when he’s right too, and his post on Google’s Spreadsheets is pretty right (as I admitted in a comment on his blog). Google’s new feature is not an Excel killer, no matter how much some people would like it to be, nor is a Word killer. They are both extenders, in that they add features to those existing products. Embrace and extend — anyone heard that one before?

The battle of the homepages continues

It was inevitable that someone in the ongoing battle of the Ajax homepages (okay, it’s no Alamo, but hey — we have to do the best we can on the new frontier) would eventually eat a bullet, and in this case it turned out to be the fittingly named Fold which, well… folded. That leaves Netvibes, Protopages, Pageflakes, Zoozio and — oh yes — a couple of little players named Google (with its google/ig) and Microsoft (with Both Netvibes and Pageflakes have recently gotten financing, so someone must see a future.

Richard MacManus of Read/WriteWeb sees a future too, and I’m not so sure that he’s wrong. In a recent post, he says that what now appear to be just cool homepages with some Ajaxy modules could become the portals of the Web 2.0 future, with all kinds of widgets and tools built in. In a sense, they could become a virtual desktop — the tool you use to gather all the bits and pieces of your online life together, all of them interacting and updating automatically.

I confess that I’m a big fan of, in part because it is fast — a lot faster than Google’s ig, as far as I can tell — and because it is flexible, with dozens of different modules (such as Flickr, and Digg modules) and features including the ability to add new tabs, click once and mark all items in a feed read, and so on. Google’s effort, much like its other tools such as Google Reader, verges on the lame. It seems slow and clunky, you only get three columns ( has four) and you can’t add new tabs. Admittedly, those kinds of things aren’t exactly a powerful barrier to entry.

I almost hate to admit it, but Microsoft’s entry in the portal sweepstakes has gotten better. When I first tried it, totally blew. It was slow and buggy and useless — kind of like Windows 1.0. But now it has gotten a lot faster and sleeker-looking, and is the closest to having what I think is a competitive offering compared with Netvibes. I like Pageflakes too, but for some reason it seems cluttered. All are racing to add as many modules as they can, but so far Netvibes has the most useful ones, such as a window where you can track your documents, and a connection to online storage.

Pageflakes has added a “share this page” feature so you can effectively publish your page, and Netvibes now lets you add modules to the Netvibes “ecosystem.” As for Google, one thing that it does have going for it — and I think this shouldn’t be underestimated — is a mobile version of its portal that is fast and slick. In fact, when it comes to mobile RSS readers, it is right up there with the best. I’ve tried several, including one called for the BlackBerry, and they all leave something to be desired. This could be an important differentiator between the competitors going forward.

Seth Godin likes the megaphone better

Seth Godin is a smart guy, and a marketing whiz who regularly gets asked to talk about how to communicate better, and who has written a bunch of books about how to market yourself or your company, including the “purple cow” one that many people are familiar with. So why has he decided not to have comments on his blog? Apparently, Seth would much rather stand at a lectern and show a bunch of PowerPoint (or, more likely, Keynote) slides, and then get his fee and move on.

Web 2.0 — or whatever we’re calling it nowadays — is supposed to be about the conversation, isn’t it? It’s not much of a conversation if you’re the only one talking, a point I have tried to make several times in the past, including here and here . In fact, a blog with no comments is more like a traditional media vehicle, in the sense that it’s a monologue, one that sends a subtle message that the writer has all the answers, and you the reader are simply a receptacle, a passive audience with nothing to contribute.

We added comments on every story at the newspaper I work for, the Globe and Mail, because we would like to hear from readers — some of whom, it must be said, seem to like shouting or criticizing just for the sake of criticizing, but many of whom have intelligent and thoughtful things to say. The BBC has its “Have Your Say” feature for the same reason. In many ways, it’s the evolution of the letters section, or a more civilized version of call-in radio shows. We benefit from it, and so do our readers, and I would argue blogs do the same.

Seth says that it takes too much of his time to think about or weed out comments on his blog, and that he finds himself changing the way he writes because of what people say. This, apparently, is a bad thing. And yet, in a previous post — one which did have comments, for some unknown reason — Seth talks about how to have a successful blog, and number 27 is “Include comments so your blog becomes a virtual water cooler that feeds itself.” Good advice. But not for Seth Godin, it seems.

I think the “no comments” idea is related to the “no links” idea, which my M-list buddy Kent Newsome had a bit of rant about awhile back, and with good reason. As he points out, not linking — which Steve Gillmor and others seem to be promoting — is all about arrogance and vanity. And so, I would argue, is not having comments. It says that the writer believes no one has anything useful to contribute but them. And I think it makes Seth’s blog inherently less appealing, to me at least. Scott Karp seems to agree with me, but (not surprisingly) Dave Winer doesn’t. And Anne Zelenka has a great post about it here — always happy to see you in the quiet hallways of the weekend Internet, Anne. Kent says that non-linking and non-commenting bloggers suffer from faux agoraphobia.

Hey, vote for me — I’m a moron!

I would just like to point out that — the title of this post aside — I have nothing against Joe Volpe, the Honourable Member for Eglinton-Lawrence, who is running for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada. However, I would note that it seems rather odd that he would be getting so many donations from children. A bunch of other people think so too, so they put up a website poking fun at this odd turn of events — but it has been taken down (there’s a mirror here.

Apparently the Volpe campaign had the site removed. According to the story in the Globe and Mail, a staff worker named Brenden Johnstone wrote: “My Office has had the website suspended through CIRA [Canadian Internet Registration Authority] and CDNS [Canadian Domain Name Services] and it will be down as soon as 6 p.m.” Don’t like what someone has said about your candidate? Just have the site removed. Simple as that.

Needless to say, this caused a fairly predictable firestorm of criticism, all of which is described on the website of Stephen Taylor, a former candidate for the Conservative Party — who appears to be trying not to be too partisan about the whole thing, which is nice to see (although I’m sure some will disagree). As it turns out, CIRA did not remove the site, but the site’s domain registrar did, citing fears of a defamation lawsuit. Mention has also been made that the site was created using a fictitious name and address, which is not allowed for obvious reasons.

As my friend Rob Hyndman notes, the Volpe campaign had a couple of choices — and for whatever reason, they decided to go with the stupidest one, which is to have the site taken down and then hope that the whole thing will go away. As someone on Stephen Taylor’s site remarked, this is the “pouring water on a grease fire” approach, which accomplishes nothing but spreading the fire even further. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

Items that might become posts

As usual, I’ve accumulated a pile of things I want to blog about, and might eventually — but until then, here’s a few links:

  • has gotten financing from Brightspark and some angel investors, as was mentioned at mesh a couple of weeks ago — founder Michael Tippett was on a panel there about the future of journalism, and did a great job of holding his own with Om Malik — and Pete Cashmore at has a post about how NowPublic wants to take a slightly different route in “citizen journalism” or “participatory media” (my preferred term, and I think Mike’s too).
  • Stuart MacDonald, who knows a thing or two about airlines from his days running Expedia, has a great post about how little attention is being paid to the auction of spectrum for in-flight Internet access, something you would think more people would be interested in. I know I would, if only I could actually afford to travel anywhere. Maybe we should call in-flight Internet Hi-Wi 🙂
  • Mark Cuban, the gazillionaire blogger and owner of the Dallas Mavericks (plus and some other stuff), has a post up about how journalism matters — although he says it needs to change (and I would agree). Carlo Longino of MobHappy and, however, says on his personal blog that journalism is broken.
  • Roelof Botha, the Web 2.0 guy at Sequoia Capital who spearheaded their investment in YouTube, talks to SiliconBeat.
  • Another couple of journalism notes: Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz talks about the paper’s redesign and how it is being influenced by the web (Tim Porter’s take is here) and on a somewhat-related note, Globe and Mail editor-in-chief Ed Greenspon took some questions on the paper’s website, and had some interesting things to say.
  • Jaron Lanier has written a long rant about the collectivist — and even flat-out communist — kind of “hive mind” he sees behind a lot of Web 2.0 such as Wikipedia, something that Andrew Keen got a lot of mileage out of, and a line others have parroted as well. Why we should take Jaron’s word for it just because he helped invent “virtual reality” way back when is beyond me. And Umair Haque of Bubblegeneration has a nice deconstruction of the piece.
  • Last but certainly not least, the Pew Internet and American Life study is out and it has found that 50 million Americans are content creators.

Hey, where’s my Apple halo?

Remember the “halo effect?” That was the term some analysts came up with for the boost in Apple sales that was expected to result from the smash success of the company’s iPod music and video players. The assumption was that all the love for the iPod would spill over onto the rest of Apple’s business, and that people would be drawn to purchase more Macs and iBooks and so on. There were several articles and analyst reports last year that said the effect seemed to be working — but now there are numbers that call those early reports into question.

According to the latest report from Gartner Group — obtained (ironically) by Apple Insider — Apple’s worldwide market share actually dropped in the first quarter of this year, to 2 per cent from 2.2 per cent in the same quarter of 2005. Even in the U.S., the company’s primary market, its share barely budged during the quarter, remaining more or less flat at 3.6 per cent (Gartner says the company’s share rose by one-tenth of one per cent). Even if you assume that lots of people held off buying because they were waiting for the new Intel models, that’s still not a great performance — and not much evidence of a halo.

If you’re wondering why it’s ironic that the Gartner report shows up on Apple Insider, it’s because the blog was one of several that were sued for leaking inside information about Apple products — a lawsuit that Apple just recently lost. Could Apple Insider be feeling a bit of what the Germans call schadenfreude?