There’s been a clamor lately as the economic times continue to be quite challenging all over the world. For internet services and resources to charge for access with no less than Rupert Murdoch, the old line news baron, is spearheading the effort to put a pay wall in front of digital content. According to this school of thought, free is the anti-thesis of quality content. In this line of thinking, you just don’t get the same level of professionalism if the content is free. Also, they argue that the producers of these content aren’t given enough incentive to continue producing if there is no payment incentive. There are many ways to analyze this line of thinking, it is not exactly new. Remember the free TV and cable TV.
Cable TV which is paid TV, coexist nicely with free TV. The truth is, free TV laced down the bedrock for cable TV to have added value. It’s all about the concept of comparatives. If you have something that you have nothing to compare it to, then its value remains particularly fixed. Now if you have two things and you compare them to each other, then their value relative to each other is apparent. The value of cable TV is clear to those who want to pay for cable TV because there is such a thing as free TV and the value of free TV is enhanced by the existence of cable TV. Get that? The same dynamism is beginning to apply to the internet as well as more content providers and networks clamor for a paid system. There shouldn’t be nothing holding them back from doing that and if there arises a paid substructure to the internet, the internet won’t implode. There should not be any antagonism between paid content and free content. Truth be told, there is such a thing as premium content. These are well researched, well analyzed information that was drawn from particular sources. These can be premium content because it takes more effort and resources to produce these type of content. It makes sense to put these behind the pay wall, like specialized studies, specific surveys, market analysis, insider tips, and those kinds of things. In fact, there are already special content membership sites that cater to these niches and more and they’ve existed almost since the beginning of the internet’s commercialization.
The real drama is, when Rupert Murdoch calls for all premium content to be behind a wall. This really goes against the grain in terms of basic internet marketing. The way marketing is done on the internet all boils down to establishing credibility and getting a massive base of people. From this massive base of readers, you then offer premium materials which only a percentage would sign on to. But at the end of the day, the small percentage ends up subsidizing the ones who want free content. In fact, these two models coexist to such a great extent that it can be very lucrative. Maybe the issues that are raised by Rupert Murdoch are still just hang overs of the suspicion of how content on the internet works and how it interacts with marketing. The basic standard is, your content establishes your credibility. And once you are credible, you now can charge money for parts of your content. This delicate balance is being upset by media companies who argues, that since they are already credible and branded, they don’t have to go through this process and don’t have to offer such a two tiered solution. But the fact is, the corner stone of the internet, infrastructure and most importantly the readers and internet user’s expectations were shaped by the standard model described above so it’s a very hard model to break.
Adding an extra layer of complication to the whole equation is the rise of user generated content. The user generated content like you see on Twitter and Wikipedia is fast becoming the bread and butter of the internet. Syndicated content from millions of blogs and even search engines which are forms of syndicated content should be factored in to this whole free versus paid debate. The truth is, the current model works. It’s just the question of big media players getting acclimated to how internet media plays out. It truly is a cultural issue not a business model or technical issue.