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Sunday, April 19, 2009

A licence fee for newspapers?

Very interesting piece by Peter Preston, former editor of The Guardian, about the possibility of traditional news-gathering being paid for by a "licence fee" paid by web users. I don't think it will happen because the one thing government's not going to do is propose further taxation for anything like this. However what's clear is that the current situation where newspapers are giving their stuff away for free can't sustain much longer. The boss of the Mirror Group, Sly Bailey, made this clear on Friday.

Local papers are folding already. The next to go will be national titles. Even if they do what the digital zealots advise and migrate all their content to the web, they will only make a tiny fraction of what they make by selling ink on paper. They won't be able to sustain their operations on this revenue and so they will sink. This is something that's becoming more widely accepted with each passing day.

What intrigues me about Preston's piece is his observation that the further the BBC strays from its traditional role of providing news and entertainment on radio and TV and the increasing strain it is forced to take as the nation's primary news provider, the greater will be the pressure on the old understanding that underpinned the licence fee. And what are they going to do for content every day when they can't read out The Sun and The Times?