Media heavyweights Arianna Huffington and Mathias Döpfner went head to head on Thursday in a debate concerning the future of paid content at The Monaco Media Forum, the Financial Times has reported.
Döpfner, CEO of German media giant Axel Springer, opened the debate with a message of hope for traditional media: "I don't share the cultural pessimism that media is dying. I think it is the opposite." In its latest results, out this week, Axel Springer's German newspapers
bought in a tidy 25.4% profit margin. "If print is dying, this death feels pretty comfortable," Döpfner quipped.
The tone soured however as the publisher of Europe's largest newspaper, Das Bild, went on to denounce the business model of a site hailed as the future of news, telling Huffington that a Polish newspaper his company established at the same time as she founded HuffingtonPost.com in 2005 was already making more in profit than the rumoured $6m-$10m her site was seeing in revenue.
Despite the fact that Huffington did not reveal the site's current revenue, she defended her online model, dismissing accusations that "the only difference between us and HuffPo is we pay our contributors" and Döpfner's estimation that if Axel Springer also didn't provide their bloggers with a salary their profit margins would see an increase of 80%. Döpfner insisted that for "sports, games, regional, sex and crime, people will pay, only web communists think otherwise" to which Huffington countered that online readers would pay only for financial information and "weird porn". "You are trying to enter into the same river twice" she told Döpfner, and "that river has gone".
Echoing Rupert Murdoch's sentiments, Döpfner accused news aggregators of "stealing", but expressed scepticism regarding Murdoch's threat to remove his news sites from Google's search index. Using a neat analogy to illustrate his point, Döpfner asked: "Is it more democratic to go into a supermarket and get a can of beer for free? How absurd" and implored Huffington to "brew your beer yourself. Don't take our beer and offer it for free." Huffington maintained however, that her site's editors "are continuously getting schooled in copyright".
The debate culminated in Döpfner taking a step back, predicting "mixed models", combining free and paid content with strong copyright protection, as the future of news. His argument that readers would be willing to pay for high-quality reporting was met with applause from the audience, who then also showed their appreciation for Huffington and her retort: "You are incredibly convincing and you will be proved incredibly wrong."
Source: Financial Times