The Register To Start Charging For Online Content?

The Register To Start Charging For Online Content?

This could be nothing, but the media-watching folks at The Atlantic and Gawker seem to think it very well could be something big. The executives of the nation's top newspaper companies -- Register-owning, Irvine-based Freedom Communications among them -- met yesterday in Chicago to talk about the future of their troubled industry.

The Atlantic's James Warren writes:

Here's a story the newspaper industry's upper echelon apparently kept from its anxious newsrooms: A discreet Thursday meeting in Chicago about their future.

"Models to Monetize Content" is the subject of a gathering at a hotel which is actually located in drab and sterile suburban Rosemont, Illinois; slabs of concrete, exhibition halls and mostly chain restaurants, whose prime reason for being is O'Hare International Airport. It's perfect for quickie, in-and-out conclaves.

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There's no mention on its website but the Newspaper Association of America, the industry trade group, has assembled top executives of the New York Times, Gannett, E. W. Scripps, Advance Publications, McClatchy, Hearst Newspapers, MediaNews Group, the Associated Press, Philadelphia Media Holdings, Lee Enterprises and Freedom Communication Inc., among more than two dozen in all.

The conference reportedly includes presentations about charging online aggregators for the news they appropriate from newspapers, and about charging for access to online news.

As horrible as the idea sounds to anyone accustomed to reading newspapers from all over the world on the internet without paying a dime, there's a substantial contingent of industry-watchers who believe that newspapers made a fatal mistake in the 1990s by making their content available for free.

And Gawker points out that the only way for a switch to an online pay model to actually succeed would be for most of the industry's competing news sources to do it at the same time. This meeting might be a step in that direction. Or maybe not.

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