Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Time marches on, toward end of 'free content' era

In case you missed it, this week we moved a step closer to the end of the era of “free content” on the Web and toward a future where we’ll have to pay for much of the information that now comes pouring out of search engines for no charge.

That direction has been becoming clearer for quite a while. As Walter Isaacson points out in the new Atlantic, the old mantra of “information wants to be free,” coined by Stewart Brand of the Whole Earth Catalog, is morphing into a new realization – timely information is valuable, and consumers of it should be happy to pay.

Rupert Murdoch, a major media trend-setter, has said he "will find ways to charge online for all of his papers, just as he already does for The Wall Street Journal,” Isaacson points out. Now, the iPad has speeded up this evolution. Apps for the Journal and the New York Times, among other publications, offer only a peak at their daily publications for free, but charge for the full issue. USA Today’s app is totally subscription-based. And many magazines, from Sports Illustrated to Popular Science, are charging on the iPad for content that is free – so far – to laptop users.

Now Time magazine has taken a huge next step. Brief summaries on its website carry this notice: “The following is an abridged version of an article that appears in the July 12, 2010 print and iPad editions of Time.”

This means, beginning this week, its articles will no longer be available on the Web at all. If you want more than some teaser excerpts from its articles, you’ll have to purchase the print edition – or download the iPad app, for $4.99.

The curtain is clearly coming down. Before long, it may cost us more to reel in all the information that we’re used to downloading for free, but maybe the fees will make sure that the folks who create valuable content will keep it coming.

- Potomac Communications Group

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