Magazine article Information Today

Business Models for News, Ebook Fever, and Search Engines Top the News

Magazine article Information Today

Business Models for News, Ebook Fever, and Search Engines Top the News

Article excerpt

As I discussed in my November 2009 column, newspapers and other news outlets are scrambling to find new business models. Should online content be free or stay behind a pay wall? What about the "freemium" model? Is Google sending my news site lots of traffic or stealing my content and potential revenue? The entire news landscape is clearly in flux. Even top publishers, such as The New York Times Co., are struggling to find the right approach: What content would readers be willing to pay for?

A recent study by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) reported on research showing that consumers are willing to pay for meaningful content (unique, such as local, timely, or mobile), but they are not willing to pay much. In the U.S., the average amount consumers say they would pay is about $3 each month. Consumers are not interested in paying for news that is routinely available for free on a range of websites. That's no surprise. But they are more willing to pay for online news provided by newspapers than by other media, such as TV, websites, or online portals. According to the BCG, the survey suggests that hybrid models for accessing news and content will emerge.

In late November, the Financial Times (FT) reported that Microsoft has been involved in discussions with News Corp. over a plan where the media company would be paid to "de-index" its news websites from Google and instead be featured on Microsoft's Bing search engine. News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch has reportedly said he would use legal methods to prevent Google from "stealing stories" published in his papers. But it remains to be seen whether he would actually pull the News Corp. headline content (including The Wall Street Journal) from Google's index. For many casual searchers, if it's not in Google, it doesn't exist; they will just click on another source. The FT also says it learned that Microsoft has approached other big online publishers to persuade them to remove their sites from Google's search engine.

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This situation could get very interesting. Will serious searchers have to keep track of which content is available through each search engine? An article in The New York Times pointed out that this goes against the "open playing field" that the web has presented. "If such an arrangement came to pass, it would be a watershed moment in the history of the Internet, and set off a fierce debate over the future of content online." Yes, indeed.

Ebook Fever

The focus on ebook readers has reached a fevered pitch, with rampant speculation, leaked photos, nonstop product rollouts, and even price reductions. Some of the e-readers announced with great fanfare in the fall were even sold out prerelease and were unavailable for Christmas delivery.

A company called Spring Design announced plans for "Alex," a dual-screen Android-based e-reader. In its press release, Spring Design reported it was working with "selected strategic partners" to have the device on the market "by the end of" 2009. It reportedly features a 6" E-ink screen and a 3.5" color touchscreen display, along with full browsing abilities.

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Barnes & Noble introduced its own ebook reader called the nook. The device, which sells for $259, features a 6" screen from E Ink Corp. with a color screen touch input. It also uses a wireless connection to download books from the online ebook store that the book retailer unveiled in July. Spring Design then sued Barnes & Noble, claiming that the bookseller broke nondisclosure agreements and misappropriated trade secrets in creating the nook e-reader.

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The enTourage eDGe will be the world's first dual-screen ebook reader (it opens as a book does) that combines the functions of an e-reader, a netbook, a notepad, and an audio/video recorder and player all in one. It will let you read ebooks, surf the internet, take digital notes, send emails and instant messages, watch movies, and listen to music anywhere, at any time. …

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