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Rupert Murdoch Muses on Disappearance of Printed News

Exec Favors Paywalls, Criticizes MailOnline for Lack of Original Content

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Rupert Murdoch, CEO and founder of News Corp., is undergoing two days of rigorous questioning at the Leveson inquiry into press misconduct in the U.K. Today, he used the platform -- under the spotlight of the world's media -- to share his thoughts on digital media's impact on the business of print newspapers, and the pitfalls of paywalls and plagiarism.

Rupert Murdoch
Rupert Murdoch Credit: Bloomberg

Mr. Murdoch, whose media empire includes The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post in the U.S., and The Times and the Sun in London, spoke today about "enormously disruptive" technologies. "The day will come when we can't afford trucks and huge [printing] presses, and we'll be purely electronic," he said.

"I prefer the tactile experience of reading a newspaper or a book, so I think we'll have both [tablets and newsprint] for quite awhile," Mr. Murdoch added. "Some people say 10 years, some say five. I'd be more inclined to say 20."

Mr. Murdoch spoke about the proliferation of tablets and mobile devices, underlined that , "we are spending a lot of money trying to -- and succeeding in -- presenting every word of our newspapers on modern tablets.

"We have to meet that challenge and try and turn it into an opportunity, but it's not easy. We have a lot of people working to make attractive versions of our newspapers. For instance, every single word of The Wall Street Journal -- and it's a challenge to get through it -- is there every day. But we add more photographs, which are extraordinary quality on the iPad, and will get better."

News Corp. has taken a stance against giving content away. "The problem is we ask people to pay for it and if it's good enough, they will," Mr. Murdoch said. "Unfortunately Apple takes 30%, but that 's another debate. The Times of London can be seen in any corner of the world, so maybe there's an opportunity there."

Mr. Murdoch appeared to criticize rivals, such as the Daily Mail's MailOnline, which provide content for free and use a limited amount of original journalism. "They aggregate [news], and their advertising is rising but so are their costs," he said. "There are so many advertising opportunities that the rates stay very low."

MailOnline notched 45 million unique visitors in December 2011 and claims to be the world's biggest newspaper site, ahead of The New York Times, which had 44.8 million unique users in the same month, according to figures from ComScore.

"The MailOnline is unrecognizable as part of the Daily Mail," Mr. Murdoch said. "Mr. Dacre [the newspaper's editor] doesn't have a computer, he gets someone else to do it and they just steal. It's a great gossip site -- or bad, whichever way you look at it -- and comes right up to the barrier of what is fair use of other people's material. It has tens and tens of millions of followers around the world, but there's no profit in it yet, according to their public statement, but their hope is for profit."

Mr. Murdoch also spoke about the Huffington Post, which he said "started pretty much as a political pamphlet with advertisers and has broadened itself quite cleverly. I don't believe they make a profit yet, but they're read by many millions of people."

Of the complications of the digital world, he said: "We're suffering at the hands [of disruptive technologies] when it comes to regulation. I just beg for some clarity because it's really a very complex situation. ... It's well above my pay grade."

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