Is Free News on The Internet Over?

German publishers have taken a more defensive posture until now. Axel Springer CEO Mathias Döpfner, whose company is Europe's largest newspaper publisher, proposed the idea of obtaining ancillary copyrights for publishing houses, which would guarantee them a fee for the dissemination of their content on the Internet. The publishers rallied behind a joint statement, but few understands what it means. Acting as the industry's spokesman, publisher Hubert Burda -- whose company is home to Germany's second-largest newsmagazine -- sharply criticized Google, saying the search engine is misappropriating publishers' content. But that's not what the future looks like. In fact, since Murdoch staked out his position, we now know what it holds.

Last week Springer CEO Döpfner suddenly announced that his publishing group will develop a mixed model of free and paid content by this autumn for regional newspapers like the Hamburger Abendblatt. And now mobile sites for Bild, Springer's mass-circulation tabloid, and Die Welt, the company's upmarket daily paper, are only available for a fee on the iPhone. Other publishers hope, and justifiably so, that users will be willing to pay for content on their mobile phones that they can get for free on their computers.

The system is far from mature, and not even Döpfner will say whether it will work. "But if we aren't even convinced that we have content for which readers are willing to pay, we might as well get out of publishing."

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.

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