As US publishers prepare for the collective jump, UK publishers sling mud

Across the pond, a very unlikely detente is emerging. Faced with industrial armageddon, the publishing world seems to be dabbling in collectivism.

First was the announcement of the (so-far nameless) digital magazine consortium involving the five biggest magazine publishers in the US:

“Condé Nast, Hearst, Meredith, News Corp and Time Inc are making it formal: the five publishers are equity partners in a new digital publishing venture with grand designs. They want nothing less than to develop open standards for cross-platform e-reader technology, advertising and digital sales – and they’re going to put their brands behind it. Together, the company says the five represent an unduplicated audience of 144.6 million.” [PaidContent]

In short, they are banding together to fight the same fight. The enemy is industry decline, and their enemy’s enemy is their friend. The timing is right too, as very soon they might have a brand new weapon – the ridiculously hyped Apple tablet. Rather than squabbling over price wars for potentially revolutionary new content, they are deciding instead to set collective standards. Rather like a union, one could say. Or, indeed, a cartel.

At the same time, News Corp’s (and Rupert Murdoch’s) determination to lead the industry into a brave new world of paid-for online content seems to have found an unlikely new running buddy – the New York Times. As leaked to New York Magazine recently [UPDATE: and now confirmed], the announcement of a paywall-style system at the NYT could come in the next few weeks. It doesn’t matter that the two are doing it independently: it seems that News Corp and the NYT are both going to jump behind the wall at (roughly) the same time.

The collective jump theory makes a lot of sense for all involved. It increases the scarcity. If one news organisation was to jump behind the paywall at a time when everything else was free, they would suffer huge readership losses (as I’ve discussed before, brand loyalty is a very unbankable, old media concept). But if the jump is (almost) simultaneous, whether in partnership or independently, then losses will be minimised. Everyone wins. Well, everyone loses less, anyway.

In the UK
Such collective thinking, whether in partnership or independently, seems a long way away in the UK. In fact, over the last year I have noticed more newspaper vs. newspaper articles than ever before. Faced with industrial decline, the British press seem to be more preoccupied with slinging mud at their rivals than grouping together, however reluctantly, to fight the same fight.

We had the Times skipping around the room when they discover the Guardian’s bungled currency trading, the Guardian laying into soon-to-be Independent editor Rod Liddle’s forum activity, and the Telegraph pouncing on Guardian mistakes with insatiable glee…to name but a few examples. The Jan Moir column was a disgusting piece of journalism that deserved everything it got, but the Mail runs similarly disgusting articles every year…would there have been as much of a furore back when everything was rosy, and when newspapers weren’t baying for their rival’s blood so determinedly?

There is a difference, of course. Over here we have the BBC. Collective jump or no collective jump… with the gargantuan, ever-brilliant and ever-free BBC rumbling along as always, nothing will ever be scarce. So perhaps it doesn’t matter anyway.

But surely it’s better to go down fighting, than to go down fighting each other? Instead it’s getting dirtier, when a collective siege mentality would surely serve their purposes a lot better.

Image: Tiago Rïbeiro on Flickr / Some rights reserved

Related posts:
Is Hyperlocal all hype?
Coming soon: a journalistic ‘state of nature’
Why membership is an Old Media solution to a New Media problem

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