When some people floated the idea of an Apple iTunes for journalism this year, I thought it was a decent idea with some holes. Yes, bundling different website news stories might be the best way to convince online readers to pay for something they're used to reading for free, but news isn't like music. It's more ephemeral (you don't keep a "favorite" Associated Press story to read again and again) and it's more easily replicated (the same story often appears in the NYT, WSJ, Reuters, etc).
But today the Financial Times reports that Time Inc and Conde Nast are in talks to build something like an Apple iTunes (or is it a Hulu?) for journalism. How will this work?
From the FT:
The new service, as yet unnamed, would serve as a digital storefront for magazines, possibly newspapers and other publications and is expected to be announced in about a month. The launch is planned for 2010, people familiar with the plan said...
The business would be structured like Hulu, a popular online video service formed by NBC Universal, News Corp and Disney. Founding publishers are expected to take equity stakes in the new entity and the venture will be financed by its partners. Details of the arrangement have not been finalised, these people said.
The article is clear to point out that the publishers see this move as an effort to keep an outside company from creating a store of paid journalism that dominates the industry, like Apple iTunes has done for music. It's a notable move, but it's hardly surprising. Publishers sound like they're rallying around the idea of paid content online -- Rupert Murdoch is getting bullish on the point -- and the best way to get people to pay for something they consider near-free is to bundle diverse content and convince readers they're getting a deal.
But to make this idea work will require somebody to flip a switch on numerous websites to make them inaccessible to non-payers overnight. The more free content they leave on their sites, the less impetus readers will have to pay through this new Hulu platform.