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Free NYT + Free WSJ = Free Fed Info?

While we haven’t been great at generating comments, I wanted to toss out a discussion topic and see where it goes.

As I hope many of you know, the New York Times has dropped subscriber charges and the uber-capitalist Wall Street Journal will follow suit in the next few months. The NYT found they were losing more in ad revenue than gaining in subscriptions. New WSJ owner Rupert Murdoch is on record saying that ad revenue is where the money is.

What, if anything, does the death of premium subscriptions for propriety content, mean for electronic federal information that gets sold? Not just the GPO Sales program, but NTIS, PACER, so-called cooperative publications and the rest? What is their future? Do they have one? At least the NYT and WSJ had copyrighted materials they could defend. With some exceptions, federal information is public domain. Once you get it out of a paid system, you can use it how you want. It’s not quite that easy since a few federal fee-based databases are licensed, but it’s mostly true.

We at FGI think there is answer — that selling federal information, aside from being an affront to the taxpayers who paid for the the first time, will not be viable. It wasn’t when GPO tried it in the early 1990s and it won’t be now. Eventually fee-based gov’t information will need to be provided freely, like NYT and WSJ. Though without the ads. It’s not inevitable, but even the market seems like it may be trending that way. What do you think?


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