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A broadband levy to support newspapers? In your dreams…

Posted Sep 23 2012 4:14pm

David Leigh, the Guardian’s investigations executive editor, has put forward a rather contentious proposal – newspapers are losing business, it’s all the Internet’s fault, so there should be a £2 per month levy on broadband connections to support the industry.

As you can imagine, some comments were a tad terse and pretty much all were negative – there are a couple of mine, including a shorter and, sadly, rather ill-written, version of this.

It is, whichever way you look at it, a mind-numbingly stupid and self-serving suggestion – and where would it stop? Should I pay a levy to bakers because I make my own bread, perhaps? Or to bus companies because I use taxis? It makes as much – or as little – sense. Once this principle is established, the ramifications are limitless.

Leigh says, among much else, “There are very few people in the trade who are prepared to bet that all our daily papers will still be publishing newsprint copies in five years’ time.”

Are we to assume from this that all Guardian readers** will have broadband and get all their news online? It’s unlikely.

**In which, for the sake of argument, let’s include all the “quality” end of the market.

Even though I had online access, I bought the print version of the Guardian for many years, until I became increasingly housebound and also increasingly reluctant to pay for a huge amount of paper, most of which I didn’t read or even want (a week’s worth of Guardians, plus the Observer, on Sunday, is currently £10.60 – that’s too much when most of it is unread). I’m pretty sure many other former readers feel the same.

And, of course, many people neither have, nor do they want, access to the Internet, but still don’t buy papers. Are you going to tax them for failure to support your industry, Mr. Leigh?

I also know of people – more than you might think – who find stumping up for a daily Guardian and a Sunday Obs just too expensive (most people I know are sick and disabled, and on benefits, or pensioners, or, like me, both), and get their news from radio and TV – it’s not JUST the Internet that’s killing off newspapers – my TV gives me access to English-language news feeds from around the world (during last year’s riots, as well as the Japanese tsunami, I got excellent coverage from Al Jazeera). You want to tax that, too?

Newspapers – and magazines – have a lot of problems, and they can’t all be laid at the Internet’s door.

Cost is a major factor, especially with magazines. Many mags cost close to a fiver these days – a paperback, out of which I’ll get considerably more mileage and probably more pleasure, is more cost-effective. Considering how few people I see looking at the magazines in Sainsbury’s, and even fewer buying, there’s a lot of consumer resistance.

I used to buy a huge number of magazines; now I buy books instead (print and Kindle). So what to do? Tax books for taking away trade from mags? Ebooks are already taxed.

This taxation proposal is Luddism writ large – you can’t hack it, so the perceived opposition has to pay. Pity The Internet isn’t the only opposition, then, isn’t it?

Rather destroys the argument.

Press barons, not too many years ago, told the print unions “Adapt or die!”

Seems they don’t like it when the boot’s on the other foot…

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