When I first got the internet at home 12 or so years back, I remember the Actrix ISP guy telling me to make the most of it because, sooner rather than later, we’d all have to pay to view anything on the web.
Today, thankfully, I’m still waiting for that, and savvy businesses are making more and more online stuff free – many getting rich doing it.
Wired editor Chris Anderson for one firmly believes things are only going to get freer on the internet. In his new book, Free: the Future of a Radical Price, Anderson says, “In the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win.”
Tomorrow, though, the National Business Review starts to charge for ‘premium’ content on its website. The move comes as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation also ponders widespread charges for reading its news websites. So far, reportedly, it has more than one million paid up subscribers to its Wall St Journal online service. Which way, if at all, things will tip is still pretty unclear.
And will this trend extend beyond the grumpy old men of newspapers? It appears unlikely. The free internet has been a huge tool for smart PR campaigns (think the best job on the world) using free content and, of course, for the free spread of ideas and thought, in general.
UPDATE: I visited the NBR site Friday morning. Most of the top stories have Subscriber content next to them, and you must sign-on and pay to access them. Did I do this? No. Do I miss not getting the content? Yes. Is the content crucial for my work or life? No. Has the website now become a bit unhelpful for me? Yes. Does it make the site less worth visiting? Yes. Will the site lose a visitor and NBR advertisers a potential customer? Looks like it.