Is the successful digital transition of newspapers threatened by free public news?
Szabolcs (Szabi) Toth has written a compelling study about the extent to which publicly-funded news companies with their online news sites can become a threat to traditional newspapers already suffering from multiple stresses to their business model.
In his research paper, Common Ground – Is the successful digital transition of newspapers threatened by free public news?, Szabi first examines the apparent threat represented by the BBC website (and their mobile applications) to newspaper online sites (and their IOS or Android apps).
He carries out a detailed analysis of the different digital strategies of several UK and US newspapers, including the New York Times, the Financial Times, the Guardian, the (London) Times, and a new contender in the online distribution business in the USA, Press+.
This is followed by discussion of the decision in January 2011 by MTI (Magyar Távirati Iroda - the oldest Hungarian news agency and one of the oldest news agencies in the world) to offer its content free on its website. The decision was met with criticism not unfamiliar in the UK that it would represent unfair competition to privately owned companies and – because it was free – would create a media landscape shaped more effectively by the government.
Szabi shows that a year after MTI went free with its services, they do not (yet) play in the same league as Index and Origo, the two largest news websites in Hungary.
He ends by saying that it does not really matter in the end if general news is available free online from public news services. 'This is because people do not simply want news. They want stories they can identify with, they want news sites that enable them to show their colors.'
In conclusion, Szabi argues that
there are myriads of digital strategies (some with the promise of success) out there. But all of them have a building block they would utterly fail without. It is the paper's strong and peculiar content.