Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Pay Wall

Learn that term because it is going to be THE topic of 2010. The idea of "The Pay Wall" is a paradigm shift in thinking about online information. For the last decade we have all been trained that Internet content is "free" because most content providers currently use an advertising supported model to run their websites. Well, that model is either not financially viable (bullshit) or just not lucrative enough (ding, ding, ding). Why do I say the ad supported the fuck did Google become the behemoth that they are? If you answered by selling internet based advertising then pat yourself on the back.

The only really successful large scale "Pay Wall" based content provider is The Wall Street Journal which most people agree is a special case due to their limited audience. Apparently The New York Times thinks that they can follow the WSJ lead and start charging for access to their content. That means that ANYONE that clicks on a link to a NYT article is going to have a subscription and will have to login prior to reading the article that link points to. So the real question much is NYT online content worth to you? Currently the WSJ online only subscription is $1.99 per week which is $.30 less than the print edition(6 days a week delivered.) The NYT is currently running $3.70 per week (five days delivered) for their print edition, so would you pay $1-$3 per week to be able to click on links to NYT content?

I'm sorry but I'm not going to sit and read enough of the NYT on a computer screen or even an eReader (Kindle, Nook, etc) to make that worth while when I can get similar content from any one of another dozen papers at no cost. You should pray that this fails because if this actually works and they get enough morons willing to fork over this subscription fee then you can bet that every other news organization with an Internet presence will follow suit.

This whole idea of a Pay Wall goes pack to the old days of America Online. AOL started out as not just an Internet Service Provider but a content provider. The concept was you were connecting to AOL to get information and content that AOL wanted you to see, content that they paid for or paid to have created. The problem was that once you could get to the larger Internet via AOL that bloated content infrastructure became irrelevant because there was so much more and better content beyond AOL's walled garden.

Freely available, ad supported content is what has grown the Internet to the amazing thing it is today. That model has made "New Media" companies into the successful businesses that they are today. Now "Old Media" behemoths have realized that they cannot support their massive infrastructure that was built around a dying business model with Internet advertising revenue. The newspaper industry, and I mean the idea of actually collecting information and printing it on paper then distributing that paper, is a Victorian throwback. The business has lost market share and relevance to every other form of media that as come along in the last hundred years. The radio came along and stole some of the advertising money that went to newspapers AND it eroded the newspaper's dominance on disseminating news to the masses. Then along came television which again cannibalized the ad revenue and now you can get your news by watching pretty people talk. But those types of media are fundamentally different than newsprint being audio/visual in nature.

The Internet represents the nail in the newspaper coffin because you consume content in nearly the same way, by reading text on a surface of some form. But think of all the HUGE advantages of getting your text based news via the Internet instead of a sheet of paper. Interactive content, audio/video integration, searchability, manipulation of the size of about COLOR images(I know that's a cheap shot.) I personally think that the death of the newspaper and professional journalism is a bad thing. I believe in the idea of "The Fourth Estate" and believe that professional journalism is vital to a stable society. Journalists provide a vital check against secrecy in both the private and public sectors.

There's an expression that has gone around the Internet for years, "Innovate or die." The Newspaper business in general has resisted Innovation and now they are dying.

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