Imagine if the New York Times migrated entirely to the World Wide Web. Could it support, out of advertising and subscriber revenues, as large a news-gathering apparatus as it does today? This seems unlikely, because it is much easier to create a web site and free ride on other sites than to create a print newspaper and free ride on other print newspapers, in part because of the lag in print publication; what is staler than last week’s news. Expanding copyright law to bar online access to copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, or to bar linking to or paraphrasing copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, might be necessary to keep free riding on content financed by online newspapers from so impairing the incentive to create costly news-gathering operations that news services like Reuters and the Associated Press would become the only professional, nongovernmental sources of news and opinion.
As Yglesias notes:
This just seems to totally misunderstand the relationship between the linked and the linker. In my years of blogging, I have never once heard the author of an article or the editor of a publication complain to me about having linked to an article. By contrast, on a daily basis authors and editors ask me to link to their articles. This is because having published the article on the World Wide Web, the authors and editors in question want people to read the articles. If they didn’t want to get links, they wouldn’t put the article online. If they put the article online, they want to get links. And certainly if any publication were to request that I stop linking to or otherwise mentioning their content, I would be happy to grant that request without any legal coercion.
So file that in the bad ideas files. I’m not sure what newspapers need to do to maintain profits. Maybe more online video. Maybe video classifieds or other classified innovations to compete with that damn Craigslist. One thing seems certain – there is and will remain a demand for news, and so a supply will also remain. That’s why I don’t worry too much about the total collapse of print.