The following is a comment I posted on Standupkid’s Localtvnews blog, a response to the David Carr NYT column ‘Let’s invent an iTunes for News’. The comment ended up being so lengthy I thought I’d better reproduce it here:
The whole iTunes idea is flawed on so many levels: mainly as people are willing to pay for music because they play it over and over again. News is disposable. Also, an individual piece of music tends to be unique – but when an earthquake happens, it’s not like the only way you can find out what happens is by paying a dollar to download the article about it. Put another way, how much effort does it take to compose, rehearse and record a track? Now how much time does it take a journalist to write a standard article? Very little journalism has value approaching that of music and yes, perhaps we’d pay for it, but how would we find it? And how could we produce it often enough to be viable? (Note that most musicians do not make a living from their music – would an iTunes for news mean the same for journalists?).
Oh, and I could add the fact that the business model for news is ad-based but music’s business model is not.
There are some lessons we can learn though: Apple established an infrastructure for music distribution online and offline (and annoyingly until now tied in downloaded songs to Apple players) – the news orgs haven’t done that for news. Will there be a time when we all carry Kindles? More likely we’ll just use our iPods and mobile phones, and the news org that creates an iTunes for those should prosper.
Secondly, iTunes learned about you and made recommendations. It was web-native, not shovelware – I’ve yet to see a news website with anything like the social angle that iTunes has. Facebook is closer.
Thirdly, it made content available that you couldn’t get elsewhere, bringing producers under one roof, saving the user time and creating value. Music is not search-friendly and ‘discoverability’ is social; news (text) is very search-friendly and easier to replicate so it is harder to add value there – although broadcast news orgs may have an advantage in this respect, particularly as their parent companies are already starting to do this with the likes of Hulu and Kangaroo.
The key point, is that if you are to charge people for news you need to add some value, not just shovel your content online. That’s very very difficult when accessing information is so very very easy.