It’s not clear where the expectation that if it’s on the Internet, it should be free first popped up but it’s a belief that’s taken hold and driven people to the point of madness.
Imagine that if all the time spent debating whether or not there should be pay walls and if there are how big should they be and should there be moats around them and what if we put windows in them and then what color should the shutters be was devoted to something like curing cancer or fixing a hole a mile down that’s been spewing out oil for more than a month.
Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, strikes me as an otherwise sensical person who has been grabbed by the madness.
“If you erect a universal paywall around your content then it follows you are turning away from a world of openly shared content,” he said in a speech in January.
On Charlie Rose, he said: “I think it is a very profound statement journalistically to want to put a universal barrier between you and the way the rest of the world is going to work.”
And then again, last month. He said that paywalls could lead the industry to “sleepwalk into oblivion….If you erect a paywall around your content you kind of go into a vault of darkness.”
Actually, no. If you erect a paywall around your content, you’re merely trying to make sure that you can come up with some money to pay the people who create the content. The profound statement is that you recognize quality content requires some sort of investment.
Or, as New Yorker Editor David Remnick said in discussing his belief why a paywall is necessary:
“I was going to be damned if I was going to train 18-year-olds, 20-year-olds, 25-year-olds, that this is like water that comes out of the sink,” he said recently.
Remnick has said that while he can see a rationale in giving readers headlines and “the most superficial sort of news” for free, but if readers are going to get the sort of depth they expect from publications like The new Yorker or The New York Times “it stands to reason they will have to pay for it. And I really think the demand, and the readers, are there. I think there are millions of people who want something deeper than headline news.”
While it may be a little before we know if Remnick’s estimate is on target (or low or high), the fact is people are paying for content.
Just look at how some iPad apps are doing.
The Wall Street Journal has 10,000 customers paying each month for access, the Australian saw 4,500 downloads in its first three days of availability.
GQ has sold more than 57,000 copies of the app version of itself.
And with Adobe releasing the software that Wired used to make the app, hopefully we can expect more along those lines.
Meanwhile, Advertising Age reports that Bonnier will be selling the iPad versions of their magazines (Popular Science, Popular Photography, et al…) for more than they charge for the print subscriptions and they’re not going to be alone in that model.
“It’s becoming increasingly clear customers will pay for trusted, quality content,” the magazine quotes Time Inc CEP Ann Moore as having said.
The fact is that there are websites that are mostly amalgams of opinion and, by and large, those sites don’t pay people because, really… the same investment is not needed to get people to opine.
But when you have people spending hours, researching interviewing, reporting, that requires an investment on the people supplying the content and the people who want to consume the content.
Information may be free but gathering it, presenting it… that requires an investment.
And I, for one and hopefully others, am willing to pay.
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