Mary Branscombe (marypcb) wrote,
Mary Branscombe

Paywalls for newspapers; speaking through a writer's hat I kind of approve

I'm sure this isn't a widely held view. That won't work, I hear people saying; information wants to be free.

That's a good example of why un-fact checked, un-edited community reporting isn't always the best way to get your information. The quote is actually "On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other." The tension rather than the cost is the point of the quote - and Brand talked about the cost of getting it out - not the cost of creating, checking and curating it in the first place.

This isn't just about The Times going behind a paywall (which, by the way, has worked very well for the FT). A few weeks ago Ars Technica pointed out that it couldn't stay in business if everyone blocked the ads that pay for the site. And then there's the forest of Google-ad-funded third party sites that grab content from primary sites and republish it, which many people seem to think is fine and dandy. Speaking as someone who makes their living from writing, it puzzles me that like downloading music and video, republishing content without paying is seen as a victimless crime. While the publishing and music industries have acted like cretinous dinosaurs and by refusing to offer affordable downloads in usable formats and have instead turned their users into thieves by treating them as if they already were, I'd also rather like to get paid for the work I do. I'd like it to be a living wage rather than pocket change - because if you pay so little that the only people who can afford to write are the ones with an independent income from elsewhere, you're going to get rather short of full-time, specialist writers who aren't backed by someone with an interest in what they write. And if you think that enthusiasts never have an axe to grind, why have there been mommybloggers turning out to be getting paid by suppliers to review their products?

What we need is a decent micropayments system and a decent identity system behind it so payments aren't onerous to deal with and then publishers can choose their business model (and readers can choose whether they want to spend money, attention or rely on the BBC surviving the re-org). There is no such thing as a free lunch.
Tags: business models, internet, writing

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