Will Murdoch end era of free content?

News Corporation founder Rupert Murdoch speaks at the Washington Convention Center in Washington, DC.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Kai Ryssdal: Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. announced quarterly profits late yesterday afternoon. The world's biggest media conglomerate actually lost a couple of hundred million dollars April through June. That's worth a mention, I suppose. But it's what Murdoch's planning to do to get profitable again that's really gotten people's attention. The guy who owns the Wall Street Journal, Fox News and papers from New York to London and Sydney, said he's going to start charging for his online content. Staci Kramer's the co-editor of PaidContent.org. Staci, good to have you with us.

STACI KRAMER: Thanks, good to be here.

Ryssdal: Let me just talk logistics here for a second. Do you think Mr. Murdoch is going to slam all his sites closed at once, or is he going to roll this out over time?

KRAMER: Well, the assumption there is that he's going to slam them all closed. And I don't he's going to do that. I think he's not going to put a fortress and say, no one can get it unless they pay. What I think we're talking about is a lot of gates.

Ryssdal: So in other words, over time, you'll have to pay more for whatever you want to see from the Murdoch empire.

KRAMER: You'll have to pay something for what you want to see. But it's not clear that you'd have to pay for everything the Murdoch empire provides in the way of news.

Ryssdal: Yeah, because paying for the Wall Street Journal for instance is one thing. Paying for, I don't know, the News of the World I'd say is quite another.

KRAMER: I suggested today that some people might be willing to pay 10 pence not to see the page through your page six pictures.

Ryssdal: Yes, 10 pence those would be the naked lady pictures.

KRAMER: Yes, which might make reading the Sun more enjoyable. On the other hand, there might be people willing to pay a pound to see those pictures. What we don't know yet is what he's going to charge for, and how it's going to be done. So the Wall Street Journal isn't completely paid access. A lot of the Wall Street Journal is available to you whether you're a subscriber or not. And if that's the model he's using, then I'm not expecting everything to be shut off. I'm expecting there to be a mix.

Ryssdal: Isn't there a downside risk to this whole thing for him? That advertisers are going to see the number of eyeballs on his site in theory plummet, because now you have to pay for it, and he's not going to get the ad revenue. What is he risking by doing this?

KRAMER: Well, that one reason I don't believe it's going to go all pay. Because that would be a very big hit on the advertising side. And one of things they've been doing with the Wall Street Journal and with the associated properties of Dow Jones is calibrating very carefully how much traffic they can get to support significant advertising, while at the same time keeping enough of that content valuable enough for people to pay for. That's the balancing act they have to run all the way across the news sites of the Murdoch empire. Charging isn't hard, getting people to pay, and making sure that you don't hurt your advertising business at the same time is what matters.

Ryssdal: Is this, as the buzz has been today, the beginning of the end of free on the Internet.

KRAMER: No.

Ryssdal: Boom. Done. You just don't think it's going to stick?

KRAMER: It's not that it's going to stick or not, it's just that it's not the beginning of the end of free because it's never all been free to begin with. Free is in some respects a myth that people hold on to. Professional media is paid in one way, shape or form, no matter what you do. It's paid through your attention, it's paid through your attention to advertisers, it's paid in a lot of different ways. If that attention doesn't make enough money to support what you're tuning into or reading or watching, then there has to be another way to do it.

Ryssdal: And still nobody has been able to figure it out. I mean that's the crux of this whole thing, isn't?

KRAMER: Well, it is. A lot of people think they have answers, a lot of people are trying, a lot of people are trying very hard to make this work. Micropayments is one way to do it. The Financial Times does a metered use payment plan.

RYSSDAL: The more you come the more you pay.

KRAMER: That's right. The Wall Street Journal.com, I pay a flat fee. If I'm a subscriber to the print edition, I pay a smaller flat fee. There's a lot of different ways that people are trying to do this. You know, what I think what we're going to enter here is a very big experimental phase with News Corp, and how they will handle this. And if you look at, whatever they do at the beginning shouldn't be viewed as something that even they expect to be in place a year from now.

Ryssdal: Staci Kramer. She's the co-editor of paidContent.org. Staci, thanks a lot for your time.

KRAMER: Thank you. And let's see how it all goes.

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