Kevin Spacey, alias fiendish Keyser Soze from The Usual Suspects, will no doubt always be remembered for one of the great lines of cinema: 'The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn't exist.'
Well now he'll be remembered in the boardrooms of an industry that's made his phenomenally successful career for another killer line: 'Give people what they want, when they want it, in the form they want it in, at a reasonable price, and they'll more likely pay for it rather than steal it.'
He meant it as a lesson for the broadcasting industry, when in actual fact it is just as applicable to the beleaguered print industry - especially newspapers.
The actor's formula for this proposed transformation of TV revolves around 'outmoded' concepts of ratings, series cliffhangers and weekly episodes being replaced by a watch whatever you want free-for-all. We've become a boxset culture, he argued at the recent Edinburgh TV Festival, so we want to 'gorge' on our favourite programmes rather than wait for TV bosses to feed us, as if they're dangling fish in a tired old aquarium.
The star, who recently won awards for his role in the American remake of House Of Cards, made by Netflix and of which all 13 episodes were distributed to the world online at the same time, added: "If they want to binge then we should let them binge."
His lecture continued thus: "The audience has spoken: They want stories. They're dying for them. And they will talk about it, binge on it, carry it with them on the bus and to the hairdresser, force it on their friends, tweet, blog, Facebook... and God knows what else. All we have to do is give it to them."
And newspapers know better than anyone about stories. One of the most valuable tools at the fingertips of every office-bound journalist in the world is the cuts library, a vast ocean of the most extraordinary stories the world has ever known, eyewitness accounts that bring a tear to the eye decades after they were written, interviews that leave you open-mouthed in astonishment at the prose and revelations, images that burn their way into our memories.
And who gets access to this treasure-trove? A handful of professionals who use these cuts to embellish their own work, check facts and in some cases simply copy. 'Lift and dust' as one enterprising Editor I worked with eloquently put it.
Imagine giving the public access to something like this. They'd binge on it endlessly, they'd see it for the precious resource that it really is and they'd pay handsomely for the privilege of having it all at the click of a mouse. Why should a few pallid hacks and whispering members of the British Museum have it all to themselves?
The greatest trick The Guardian ever pulled was convincing the world paid-for journalism doesn't exist. It does. If you had faith in the uniqueness of your product then there'd be no need to give it away for free.
Like Kevin, we just need to think about the product in a different way.Suggest a correction