I have a confession: the news paywall debate irritates me. It irritates me, because this discussion was had years ago, and discussed with a great deal of depth and intelligence across the emergent publishing and journalism blogosphere. And then it was promptly ignored by the majority of the publishing industry because they didn’t think that print was in any danger.


And now everyone is piling back into the discussion as panic begins to set in throughout organisations that never looked for revenue models beyond the “sales and ads” combo. And I was reminded of this by a throwaway comment in a blog post about a totally unrelated discussion (the old Apple versus PC discussion):

Google isn’t a tech company, it just gives the appearance
of being one (as I’ve said many times before, it’s really in the
business of ad sales, like any publisher – it doesn’t sell technology).

This, my friends, is the elephant in the room: we never sold journalism. Sure, we charged people for a package that included journalism. But, with some honourable exceptions, what we actually did was charge people for an advertising delivery vehicle. Often, in fact, we gave away the delivery vehicle. We call it controlled circulation in the B2B publishing world.

And then, somebody built a better mousetrap. Google isn’t a threat to the publishing industry because it “steals” its content for Google News. It’s a threat because it destroyed our advertising models.

And that’s the issue I see too many people skating around in the call for a shift back to paywalls. We have never charged truly charged what news cost to produce, and there’s no way we can suddenly ask people to start doing so, just because our advertising model went bust.