Will EC digital action fuel newsprint revival?

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The London-based executive director of the European Publishers Council, Angela Mills Wade, has written for M+AD a fierce defence of the newspaper medium – triggered by a negative blog by Sean Hargrave, editor of MediaPost UK, which (predictably) predicted the imminent demise of the daily print product.

The EPC represents 25 chief executives of European newspaper publishers and is currently actively supporting a new European Commission proposal on copyright that Wade says “would go some way to solve the problem posed by Sean Hargrave”.

Yesterday (she writes), I was interested to read Sean Hargrave’s blog: Newspapers Have Made Their Bed – Should They Sleep In It? [scroll down for the link].

Sean talks of the demise of newspapers with “a heavy heart”. I’d like to give him some hope. The gist of his article is that newspapers and magazines are doomed because they are struggling to make online work and they face the incontrovertible dilemma of needing the search engines to maximise readership of their journalism.

Share avoidance
But they are finding that the same search engines are monetising their expensively produced professional content and keeping readers away from the original newspaper sites (which makes it harder and harder to sell advertising) without sharing the revenue, seeking permission or acknowledging their copyright.

Copyright: now there’s a word to turn off most readers: but please stay with me because it could be the answer to news publishers’ digital dilemma and a way to sure up the future of 24/7 professional media reporting.

Sean suggests the answer may be that newspapers drop the share buttons and remove themselves from Google’s ranking. This is obviously a choice but not a commercially viable one. Google has a monopoly over search.

There’s nothing we can do about that, but what we can do is to look at copyright and make it fit for the realities of the 21st century digital landscape.

Right now, the European Commission is updating the copyright directive to bring it in line with the digital age. Within the reform is the proposal for a Publisher’s Right.

In a nutshell, this will provide legal certainty for the benefit of press publishers large and small, making it clear that publishers’ content cannot be copied or reused for commercial benefit without their permission, putting press publishers on a par with music, film and software program producers, whose finished works are already copyrighted in their entirety giving them the legal right on how and where their content is made available.

Currently, copyright of newspapers only applies to individual articles so if your entire edition has been systematically scraped, stored, processed and commercialised without permission or payment, your only legal redress is on an article by article basis – obviously not practical or cost-effective for any publisher large or small.

As Sean points out, newspapers are making half the revenue they used to. Ironically, this is at a time when more content than ever is being consumed and data shows that news and press content is the most ‘wanted’ content on social networks and online platform (Reuters Digital News Report 2015).

It’s quite right that publishers should be able to grant permission in return for agreed conditions, and withhold permission when agreement cannot be reached, when dealing with sometimes very large and powerful, operators.

Sean might well think that we’re looking to have our cake and eat it! Actually, we just want to make sure there is a cake in the first place and we want to share it out fairly. We want to be able to sure up the future of independent news publishing.

In a month when there has been so much talk and reporting of “fake coverage”, everyone should sit up and take note: Those of us lucky enough to enjoy life under a democracy often take a professional, independent press and press freedom for granted.

Underpinning democracy
Yet it is that press freedom and the provision of 24/7 news, entertainment, sports, political enquiry and investigative journalism that underpins our democracy.

Press freedom is not just a function of the law. It also depends on a market that can generate sufficient returns – for the huge financial investments required, and to cover the enormous legal and commercial risks and significant costs of the news business. And those returns need to be available for multiple players competing to make those investments in support of competitive products.

A strong, plural market with meaningful rewards for popular success is an essential component of a strong, independent and free press.

This law will be debated by the European Parliament in the New Year and we hope to see it adopted sometime in 2017. This Publisher’s Right would go a long way to making sure that not only do we have a cake, but that every commercial player and consumer has a chance to eat it.

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