Times' David Carr Sees the Plusses of Collusion

Last Updated Mar 9, 2009 1:01 PM EDT

It always feels good when David Carr agrees with you, even if he doesn't know who the hell you are. So I loved reading his New York Times' column today, in which he said he'd love it if the newspaper industry colluded in order to save itself: "My fantasy meeting goes something like this: a rump caucus could form where the newspaper industry would decide to hold hands and jump off the following cliffs together on the following actions. ... No more free content. ... No more free ride to aggregators. ... No more commoditized ads. ... Throw out the Newspaper Preservation Act."

Way back in February, in a BNET Media post about the problems with Walter Isaacson's newspaper rescue plan, I wrote: "At the least, a move back to a subscription model might require a migration en masse by all major newspapers to jump behind a firewall simultaneously -- though that might lead to the blogosphere taking over news coverage."

I won't go into chapter-and-verse on all of Carr's fantasy actions that the newspaper industry should take, but, even though, as he points out, there are serious anti-trust issues involved in an entire industry agreeing on certain business practices, I do wonder if there's a way, without a fantasy meeting of all the newspaper bosses, to re-start the subscription model. Or maybe, as Carr suggests, the newspaper industry should just say, "screw it!" and collude anyway: " ... what's a little lawlessness when a lot of other major industries are expecting the government to bail them out?" he asks. Damn straight.

The reason the collusion idea is so powerful is that to the extent that most news is viewed as a commodity, the newspaper industry would somehow have to decide that all of its commodity-driven content was worth paying for (in other words, make it a commodity that is now worth something to the reader rather than nothing), virtually at the same time. There is no first-mover advantage to starting to charge for content. In fact, it could be the kiss of death for a patient that is already drifting out of consciousness -- and therein lies the rub.