Paying For Content

Last modified on January 20th, 2010

This is actually kind of a sore spot, so I thought that I would touch upon it. The New York Times recently announced that they were going to start charging for content in 2011.

Strangely enough, most people who grew up in the Internet age seem to think that everything, including premium content, should be free of charge. I personally don’t believe that’s the case, and would even go so far to say that having an economy based on content generated at the expense of advertising dollars is an extremely bad thing. But at the end of the day, it always amazes me how little people are willing to pay for online content.

Most people I know spend $2 – $5 at Starbucks (or some equivalent) each day. So we obviously think coffee is worth $2/day. Yet when it comes to anti-war sentiments or well-informed research pieces on the economy, most of us aren’t willing to pay that amount. Does that reflect on the lack of value of the people paying or the lack of value in the content being produced?

So the question I pose to people is this. Is content worth paying for? If so, what would separate paid content from unpaid content? If not, where do you think the money should come from to fund the research for some articles, or the travel involved?

4 responses to “Paying For Content”

  1. Jen says:

    I think one important fact we overlook in the information age is the cost of delivery. Paying for access at our homes, businesses and on our mobile devices is only a small part of the equation. It costs an enormous amount of money for these content portals to host that information.

    It’s easier to make the connection when we are receiving a tangible good; we understand it took resources to create & deliver. But when we’ve been conditioned from the days of the early internet to expect that all content is there for the taking, it’s easy to forget that delivery is not free. We’ve been spoiled for an awfully long time, and now it’s time to start putting our money where our mouths are if we truly value the amazing array of content that we can receive, on demand, in our homes!

    This issue reminds me (as so many things do these days) of the Louis CK bit, that “Everything is Amazing, and nobody’s happy.”

  2. John says:

    I think the reality is that while it still costs real money to create content, the delivery method is very different today and the pricing models aren’t quite there yet.

    Short answer – depends on the content and depends on the pricing model.

    Jen’s comment about tangible goods is very valid but a lot of traditional content creators think that if it cost $1 to deliver it via dead tree format, it should still cost $1 for the digital version as well (i.e. newspapers but similar pricing happens for an iTunes track, etc.). Subscriptions try to make it appear cheaper but are generally overpriced compared to their real world counterparts. An iTunes monthly subscription to the Daily Show in iTunes format costs about the same as a basic cable subscription – and that’s only for one show, although granted it is commercial free which is another aspect of this issue. I pay $15 to see a new movie yet am forced to watch 20 minutes of commercials first – sometimes even on DVDs.

    Absolutely the creator should be able to charge what they want and people will vote with their wallets…but digital delivery mechanisms SHOULD lower the price of consumption.

    I don’t buy the argument that it’s expensive to deliver things digitally…at least not when compared to delivering a physical copy. Bandwidth is practically free compared to the cost of printing and shipping a newspaper around the planet…not to mention the carbon footprint of the process.

    As long as the NYT continues to print a paper, they are going to have to maintain both the digital and physical delivery methods and associated costs. The cost of their digital content is always going to incorporate some element of the printing costs.

    Similar to the tired arguments from the record and movie industries, I spend more on digital movies and music now than I ever did when I bought physical CDs and DVDs. Even things like the iPhone App Store play a factor – I’ve bought more software in the last couple of years than ever before because it’s cheap and easy to get in my underwear, from anywhere, not some specific store that is 10 miles away.

  3. Dale Mugford says:

    There is no greater marketplace for competition than the Internet. It’s one of the reasons there’s a race to the bottom in pricing in many things.

    I think the more the model of premium, advertising-free options is available the more it’ll be accepted. Won’t work for all things but it will in cases that most would think it can’t.

    I agree that there’s a free mentality with regard to the Internet, and it’s not a terrible thing. What’s at issue is that the idea of freedom in the access to information is different from that information costing nothing.

    The Internet is a resource but it’s not a library. I think it’s more a global forum, office and marketplace. Commerce is actually the single driving factor that’s made the Internet what it is, not free information.

  4. Matthew Good says:

    In this instance we’re talking about a paper of record, so it isn’t just about commerce. Public access to the fourth estate is quintessential. If it’s lost, or significantly diminished, then the fourth estate ceases to play a role within the democratic framework. Of course, we’ve watched the the fourth estate be dramatically degraded over the last decade, so it’s important to focus on the importance of publicly funded media, such as the CBC and BBC. Both represent somewhat protected sources of information precisely because we subsidize them with our taxes so that they can then perform their role within the framework of the fourth estate’s importance.

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