Walter Isaacson took his case for saving newspapers to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart last night, rehashing much of the micropayment proposal he makes in this week’s Time Magazine.
He also retold his endearing yarn about going fishing with his friend Thomas who “had a theory that ice should be free,” which he told in Time as follows:
When I used to go fishing in the bayous of Louisiana as a boy, my friend Thomas would sometimes steal ice from those machines outside gas stations. He had the theory that ice should be free. We didn’t reflect much on who would make the ice if it were free, but fortunately we grew out of that phase. Likewise, those who believe that all content should be free should reflect on who will open bureaus in Baghdad or be able to fly off as freelancers to report in Rwanda under such a system.
Mr. Isaacson failed to share the whole homily with Mr. Stewart, since the host interrupted with, “What are you, Andy Griffith? Where are we going with this?” Later, Mr. Isaacson returned to the free ice issue, which prompted Mr. Stewart to whistle Earl H. Hagan’s famous theme from The Andy Griffith Show.
Getting serious for a moment, Mr. Stewart made a suggestion—which Mr. Isaacson called “a very good idea”—that aggregators like The Huffington Post, The Drudge Report, and others pay to syndicate stories from The New York Times, Time, et. al. Mr. Issacson did him one better and suggested readers of those aggregators than pay to subscribe to those sites, much as they pay for cable and receive all the shows on cable as part of the package.
In related news, today’s The New York Times features an op-ed by Michael Kinsley headlined You Can’t Sell News by the Slice, in which the Slate founder rejects micropayments:
Newspaper readers have never paid for the content (words and photos). What they have paid for is the paper that content is printed on. A week of The Washington Post weighs about eight pounds and costs $1.81 for new subscribers, home-delivered. With newsprint (that’s the paper, not the ink) costing around $750 a metric ton, or 34 cents a pound, Post subscribers are getting almost a dollar’s worth of paper free every week — not to mention the ink, the delivery, etc.