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Tuesday, 03 November 2009

The legal threat to NewsNow and all football websites

I've been using NewsNow for football news since I moved onto the web in the late 1990s - so it is with some disquiet that I read an open letter from the NewsNow CEO asking all the major newspapers to stop threatening his organisation with legal action if NewsNow didn't stop offering links to the newspaper websites. It does seem somewhat perverse that newspapers should try to stop links to their websites, but just about every newspaper in the world has seen revenues decline in the last couple of years and a consensus has emerged that reckons that 'someone' on the web has a pile of cash to plug this gap. There is no pot of money, it is only through offering something different that people value can revenue be generated.

Some football websites are trying a subscription model, Paul Tomkins (disclaimer, Paul Tomkins has written for Squarefootball in the past) new site The Tomkins Times has started a subscription service and good luck to him. But Tomkins offers a genuinely different option with official links to the Liverpool hierarchy and a long record of heavily researched, well received writing. Despite this The Times recently ripped his interview with Rafa Benitez and dismissed him as a 'blogger'. I guess Guillem Ballague could offer a profitable subscription service as could other notable writers and even the odd footballer. There is revenue out there - but I doubt there is enough for the newspaper industry to survive in its current form.

The closest analogy to what is happening to newspapers is the music industry. Musicians have seen CD sales plummet - while download sales soar; so there are winners and losers and the nice by-product has been that so many bands now have to tour to generate cash that previously sat back and banked the royalties. A downside is the x-factorisation of music where record companies fall over themselves to flog whatever horror Simon Cowell offers them and sack all the guys that used to traipse round gigs every evening looking for real, original talent. Even so talented musicians (as well as Simon Cowell) can make money, but the music companies are the ones that feel the pain every time they try to grab back control.

Perhaps that is what will happen for journalism, a chase down to the lowest common denominator to the exclusion of more considered writing. The newspapers themselves screaming at the injustice leaving individual writers to make their own way in the world.

I personally am waiting to see how The Sun, The Times, News of the World etc copes when they have bullied off anyone who wants to guide people to their sites through links - and then to put the tin lid on it they attempt to charge everyone to read their content (which all News International publications intend to do within a year). So many websites have wanted to charge their readers and have never quite managed it - perhaps News International will change the face of the web and in 5 years there will be hundreds of journalism silos available to subscribers only making money but cut off from the wider web. But if all newspapers offer is the same news that is available elsewhere then why will people pay for it after getting used to getting it for free (again like music downloads)?

It comes back to uniqueness - which newspaper is so unique that it can survive a subscription model?

NewsNow is asking for the newspapers to choose not to prosecute it. But the fundamentals reach out to all football websites. If NewsNow is shut down the newspapers will then realise that there are further 'offenders' and look to shut down every site that either copies some of their articles or repeatedly links to their content. Hand on heart how many football websites would be affected by that?

If the principle of aggregated linking is legally stopped what next, Twitter? Facebook? Independent websites?

I've written to NewsNow and suggested that they drop a high profile newspaper (just one) from the site for a month to see if that changes their mood - but I guess that the web as we know it is about to change. For the better or worse there is a storm coming.

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