Rupert Murdoch's Times of London will be charging a subscription for access to its web site. They say it will be $1.50 per day or (for bargain hunters) $3.00 a week.
Good luck with that.
Everybody wants to charge for on-line content. Murdoch does, I do, everybody does. A lot of folks like Murdoch are watching their traditional income sources wither away and hope to get that back through the web.
Again, good luck with that.
Why not just run ads? Heck, that's what I do, right? Sure, but ads are just extra money for me - the main purpose of this website is to advertise my consulting services. That's where my real money comes from. The main purpose of a newspaper is to sell ads - there's nothing else. And Internet advertising pays far less than print advertising - not enough for the Murdoch's of the world to live in the style they prefer.
Murdoch thinks that he is powerful enough to buck "free". His confidence might come from the vast span of newspapers he owns: if he starts charging for all of his on-line content, that represents a very large chunk of available on-line news.
But not ALL of it.
That's the problem for Murdoch and anyone else who wants to put their content behind a pay wall: there will always be free sites. Unfortunately for Murdoch, the economics works against him. The free sites will pay the lousy $3.00 a week to a few pay sites, gather the important news and publish their own free news sites. Because they have low acquisition costs (a few dollars for subscriptions), they can exist quite nicely on advertising.
So, good luck with that, Rupert. It's not going to fly.
The only way to extract money from web usage is for ISP's to collect and distribute access fees - conceptually similar to ASCAP royalty fees for music. Let's say that we had to pay some fraction of a cent per website accessed. Our ISP would probably pre-charge for an average number of pages and we'd only pay for excess. The ISP in turn would pay website owners, probably with some minimum traffic level required before any payment. Big, popular websites would get big payouts, the little folks would get less or nothing at all and the ISP's would get a cut of everything.
That would work and would obviously be fair to everyone, but I don't know if it would pay the bills. For example, to match advertising income, I'd need to see half a cent per visitor. I'm not sure how many sites the average person visits in a month, but I suspect that half cent would be too much in the aggregate. If you hit 2,000 sites per month at a half cent per day per site, that's only $10, but if it's 10,000 sites, it's too much money.
Rupert would likely make out pretty well at a half cent per visit. So would many big sites like Wikipedia and the other giants. Of course they'd do well even at a hundredth of a cent per visitor.
However, they'd likely be tremendous consumer resistance to even a $10 per month increase, so that isn't likely to fly either. My guess is that "free" will continue forever.
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