Having overcome the resistance to paying for news on the Internet, newspapers in Latin America now have a significant number of digital subscribers and, resorting to other solutions, are demanding copyright payments from Google, Twitter or Facebook for use of their content.
Historical newspapers from across the continent attended last week's 78th Assembly of the Inter-American Press Association, held in Madrid – and they are seeing light at the end of the tunnel after transitioning to a new digital model.
"People 10 years ago were not willing to pay a subscription, today they are," said Nicolás de Anchorena, external relations analyst at Argentina's Grupo Clarín, from which the company's flagship newspaper gets its name.
Today, the Buenos Aires-based newspaper has close to 600,000 digital subscribers, says Anchorena, who argues that "long-term sustainability" can be achieved in this way.
Andrés Mompotes, general director of the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, explained to AFP that his outlet had "overcome the most critical moments prompted by all these digital challenges that were posed to the press."
Journalism schools, arenas, discount cards...
Mompotes notes that the 100,000 subscribers that his outlet has maintained has delivered the "peace of mind" for a "safe economic transition," but he admits that economic viability depends on "the combination of many things."
For example, in the case of El Tiempo, a "multimedia journalism training school that we also use to do writing courses or manage social networks," he explains.
Many newspapers in the region offer discount cards to their subscribers for use at other locations, while Argentina's most famous newspaper La Nación has built a mini-stadium in Buenos Aires with a capacity of 15,000 people, the Movistar Arena, the newspaper's director, Ferrán Saguier told AFP.
"We have diversified in many ways, but we were always clear that if we didn't invest in better quality and relevant journalism, none of these new businesses would prosper," Saguier pointed out, echoing a desire unanimously expressed at the Madrid assembly – the importance and need for good journalism.
Journalism worth paying for
Along the same line, A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of the US newspaper The New York Times, explained that the key to success is doing "journalism that is worth paying for."
The New York Times, with eight million subscribers, is the newspaper with the most digital subscribers in the world.
"I know it sounds deceptively simple," Sulzberger said in a videoconference address, but what is important is "the distinctiveness and the quality of what we offer."
It seems impossible that one day traditional media will reclaim the advertising spend that has been transferred to Google, Facebook or Twitter, but multimedia firms across the region are nevertheless seeking compensation for their content that has ended up being spread far and wide by large technology companies.
"Without news, what would those platforms look like?” said Fabrice Fries, president of the AFP news agency, which reached an agreement with Google for copyright payment after two years of negotiations, made possible by the approval of a European directive that protected them in 2019. This directive was intended to correct a situation in which these platforms profited from third-party content, either directly, through advertising, or indirectly, by collecting data from readers.
"It is possible to reach agreements with platforms, AFP is a good example of this," said Fries, who advised that these agreements "are a recognition of quality information, but not the miraculous solution to the press crisis."
"We are talking about millions," said the company president, "when the reduction in advertising subtracted billions" in income.
Google has already reached commercial agreements with media from Brazil, Colombia, Spain or Argentina through its news platform, News Showcase, but many Latin American newspapers insist on demanding a more "equitable" treatment of large technology companies, in the words of Mompotes.
The platforms give visibility to the media but "they need us to bring truthful information to their users: it is a symbiotic relationship," said the director of El Tiempo.