Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Why Online Newspaper Subscription Models Don't Work

"Why are you paying $18 per month for something online when you could get it mostly for free? It's one thing to talk about our being used to paying for printed newspapers, and to talk about it only being fair to compensate editors and writers for plying their craft, but in fact with virtually free global syndication (read RSS), the substantially reduced cost of publication, and an increasing capacity on the part of the public to speak for itself, such productions and such professionals are not needed in nearly the quantity they were formerly. When we look at what is possible with new media and internet technology, it makes less and less sense to be paying print era prices for online reproductions of industrial age products. Indeed, not only are their new modes of news production and distribution, it is arguable that in such a new environment traditional barriers like subscription fees do not create wealth, they hinder it. Most alternative sources of news are free, despite the fact that they represent hours of time and effort on the part of their authors. What goes around, they say, comes around. I have in turn made use of the extensive body of free information available on the world wide web. By making use of this information, and by sharing freely on my website, I have been able to gain expertise in some fields (one of which, I like to think, includes online publishing). This expertise has helped me to obtain a progression of positions in the online learning and online resource sector. It is true, I do not actually get paid for any of my online work. And true, I must provide actual services in order to earn my salary. But the salary I earn, the positions I hold, would not have been possible to attain without the free sharing of information, both on my part as a gift to others, and by others as a gift to me. In the old economy, scarcity was wealth. But we do not live in the old economy any more. This is why it is dangerous for newspapers to take the subscription route. The companies most likely to be damaged by putting restrictions on the free flow of information are those companies that earn their livings from the free flow of information. If information becomes a commodity, as some of you are suggesting, then why should I, as a newsworthy (and humble) person, allow you free access to any of it? The most frequently voice argument you hear, no matter what the domain, is that authors, musicians and artists should be fairly compensated for their work, and that this new mode of commerce - whether it be file swapping, online used book sales, or free online academic journals - is endangering that revenue. But suppose you were prohibited from selling your vehicle as a used car because your sale would cut into the earnings of those who build new cars. That argument seems pretty ridiculous, but it is essentially the same one being advanced by authors opposed to Amazon selling used books. I think that a lot of such lobbying is being done by people who have no idea how commerce works. Take me, for example. I pick up a book by John Brunner for a quarter in a used book shop (the real investment, of course, is the time it will take to read the book). I read it, I like it, I pick up a few more used Brunner books, then I start scouring Chapter's for his latest release. That's how it works. Cut off used book sales and it's like you've cut off the oxygen. The same logic applies to most content, online or offline. I don't know what authors and publishers think will replace the churn of ideas that constitutes a free information exchange, but I can tell you this: if you kill off that churn, you kill off the fuel that drives the information economy."



Readers' Comments    
blog comments powered by Disqus
posted by Robin Good on Saturday, June 12 2004, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.




Real Time Web Analytics