BEIJING (AP) — The message from some of the world's leading news providers at the first Beijing international media summit was clear: It's time to demand payment for online use of content.
After free-falling profits and massive changes in technology and in the way people obtain their news, global media leaders who gathered in Beijing said Friday that it is time for search engines and others who use articles, photos and video without fair compensation to pay up.
"We content creators have been too slow to react to the free exploitation of news by third parties without input or permission," Tom Curley, The Associated Press' chief executive, told a meeting of 300 media leaders in Beijing for a conference on the challenges and opportunities the media face from the Internet, technology changes and the world economic crisis.
He said content aggregators, such as search engines, and Web services such as Wikipedia, YouTube and Facebook are directing audiences and revenue away from the content creators.
"We will no longer tolerate the disconnect between people who devote themselves — at great human and economic cost — to gathering news of public interest and those who profit from it without supporting it," Curley said.
Rupert Murdoch also told the opening session of the World Media Summit in Beijing's Great Hall of the People that content providers would be demanding that they be paid.
"The aggregators and plagiarists will soon have to pay a price for the co-opting of our content. But if we do not take advantage of the current movement toward paid content, it will be the content creators — the people in this hall — who will pay the ultimate price and the content kleptomaniacs who triumph," the News Corp. chief executive said.
The media executives spoke following a welcome speech by President Hu Jintao, who sidestepped the issues most global media companies are dealing with. He focused instead on how news organizations can help keep peace in the world and buoy the global economic downturn.
"Media organizations around the world should ... go forward together and strive to contribute to building a harmonious world with lasting peace and common prosperity," he said. He urged journalists to "comprehensively cover" measures aimed at counteracting the financial downtown.
The AP and its member newspapers contend that unauthorized use of their material is costing them tens of millions of dollars in potential advertising revenue at a time when they can least afford it.
The AP's revenue is expected to be around $700 million this year, down from $748 million in 2008, in part because of reductions in the fees it charges newspapers and broadcasters, whose advertising revenue has been dwindling as more marketers shift to less expensive or better-targeted options online.
Adrian Dickson, the managing editor for Asia for ThomsonReuters, said the financial news provider had also been profoundly impacted by the changes sweeping the global media industry.
"In our specific case, the global nature of the Internet and the ability of search engines to quickly aggregate and distribute content has posed the most serious challenge to our business," he said. He said the company was responding with more in-depth analysis and multimedia, among other approaches.
Hans Mahr, senior adviser to the RTL Group, Europe's largest TV and radio production company, said most media companies urgently need to rebuild their business models. "I may put it a little more brutally than Rupert Murdoch did.... Those who ignore these challenges, they will be dead," Mahr said.
Mahr encouraged media companies to make sure their news and other content was available on as many platforms as possible — online, in print, and on mobile phones. They also need to find new ways to make money by charging extra for news delivered via phones and other smart devices, or do things like add gaming, e-commerce, or merchandising to their services.
Others are looking at the same things, and last month The Wall Street Journal said it plans to start charging as much as $2 per week to read its stories on BlackBerrys, iPhones and other mobile devices, expanding the newspaper's effort to become less dependent on its print edition.
The Journal, which is owned by News Corp., already is the newspaper industry's most successful Internet subscription model, with more than 1 million customers who pay for online access.
Murdoch had said in the past he hopes to make online fees pay off for his other publications, which include the New York Post and The Times of London. He hasn't provided specifics about his plans.
Media critic Jeff Jarvis said he thought that the focus on limiting access to online content was outmoded.
"The word you heard from Curley and Murdoch was control and that sounds good but what they're not realizing is that the new reality of the Internet is that you want your things to be distributed through the (online) conversation," said Jarvis, who teaches journalism at the City University of New York and writes about media on his Buzzmachine.com blog.
He is also the author of "What Would Google Do?," a book about business and the Internet.
"When they talk about people linking to them as if they are stealing from them, it's like saying, 'How dare you sell my paper and make a penny along the way?'"
Jarvis said aggregators, bloggers and people who use Twitter to share news stories give content creators free distribution and that companies should find ways to capitalize on that, instead of trying to police it. He also believes that today's large media companies are bloated and inefficient and should slash costs by cutting staff.
The AP plans to roll out a system, called a news registry, that will track its content online and detect unlicensed uses in ways that could help boost revenue for the not-for-profit news cooperative, which was founded in 1846, and its member newspapers. The system will be tested in six weeks by nine newspapers as well as a sports statistics provider run jointly by the AP and News Corp.