Tuesday, January 29, 2008

BPN 992 Dutch newspaper archives for free again

Following the example of the New York Times, Dutch online newspaper archives will be for free again within one or two years. That is the opinion of Rutger van der Wall, the managing director of LexisNexis Benelux in an interview with De Nieuwe Reporter. He vents his opinion as the newspaper conglomerate PCM intends to break open its agreement with LexisNexis. It is remarkable that a manager of a commercial archive operation makes such a statement, while the companies are still negotiating.

Newspaper archives are a difficult business. Should a newspaper offer its increasing treasure for free or should payment be asked for usage. The argument that a consumer has to pay for the storage is not relevant any longer; storage costs have decreased exponentially over the years. Should users pay for the value of the content?

When I was in London in the beginning of the eighties, the formation of news archives was the latest fashion in online in town. Ten years earlier the New York Times started to build up it news archive. In the eighties the Financial Times (FT) and BBC World radio started to collect and store all their stories. Due to the graphical unions the newspapers had to have the newspapers retyped; also BBC World radio had to have their stories transcribed. In 1990 FT announced that its online newspaper archive was paying for itself.

The Dutch newspapers were late in changing over to digital typesetting. Het Financieele Dagblad was the first newspaper to start a news archive with BRS software. The archive was accessible: users had to pay for it and subscribers got a reduction. When internet was introduced Eindhovens Dagblad was the first newspaper company to go on internet with its archive under Rosetta software for free.

Dutch national consumer newspapers with online archives:
de Volkskrant (PCM) online archive since 01-04-1994;
NRC Handelsblad (PCM) online archive since 01-01-1990;
Trouw (PCM) online archive since 01-01-1992;
Het Parool online archive since 01-07-1992;
Algemeen Dagblad (PCM/Wegener) online archive since 01-11-1991;
Telegraaf online archive since 01-07-2001.

By 1995 the Belgian newspaper publishers took a remarkable initiative, called Central Station. They pooled all their content together at night and started a personal news service based on their profile for subscribers. The service had troubles in starting up as journalists claimed excessive copyrights, but eventually the service returned as Mediargus. In the Netherlands a working party was formed to study the introduction of such a service. However this service never came off the ground.

In 1988 an initiative was taken to start a central press archive in The Netherlands. In the framework of a promotion program for the Hague as a telecom city, the Nederlandse PersDatabank was founded with the help of the Chambers of Commerce, Bull and Cap Gemeni. None of the shareholders had any idea of the newspaper business and of the legal rights, while the management consisted of a civil servant of the municipality of the Hague.

By 1996 PCM bought de Nederlandse PersDatabank, changed its name into Factlane by 2001, but sold the service to LexisNexis in 2002. The agreement was to run for ten years and PCM stipulated that its subscribers to the printed version could get access. Now it looks like PCM will offer the online news archive for free. Is this sane management? You might expect that in 7 to 10 years time PCM will offer the service again through a news aggregator.

I think that it is smart for PCM to keep the online news archive itself. It has an internal function for documentation, but also a public one for retrieval. But an online news archive deserves a better managerial policy. Just offering an online archive for free to the public is not smart. An online archive can be a profit centre with a proper policy. One of the policy measures is to offer no more than one year of archive for free and let people pay for the rest. Money can also be made by offering people a paid personal profile service preferably every morning. Of course it would be even smarter when all the Dutch newspaper and magazine publishers would offer a common personal profile service. This service could produce for business, consumers and special interest.

Blog Posting Number: 992

Tags: newspapers, online archive

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