July 02, 2002

Fee or Free: It's Economics!
Vin Crosbie gives a common sense reason to why content on the Internet is free in his latest ClickZ column. Vin plays down those who say we need to "educate" people to pay for content. There's an information surplus. Companies can't charge for content when it's so abundant. Now, if you have content that is on-of-a-kind, you'll be able to charge for content, and you should.

The Internet eased consumer access to information and astronomically increased choice of information sources. Most information is no longer scarce. It's becoming surplus. Publishers who distribute information are economically compelled to charge increasingly less.

Those of you who didn't nod off in economics class may remember how supply and demand works: You can charge much for something scarce or otherwise hard to obtain, but you must charge less if that something is surplus or otherwise easy to obtain.

Technological progress continually makes products more surplus and easier to obtain, even information. Result: Prices for information make ineluctable progress toward zero. Or, as Brand's observation is partly remembered, "Information wants to be free."

This makes me think about the homogenous nature of media in general. Few providers provide all of the content. It's become the same and it's everywhere you look. Mainstream media has become dull, and this is why I think Saltire is right when he says, it's all coming crashing down. There's no diversity in media today. And the media giants have shot themselves in the foot because they all thought their little formulas were going to deliver a constant flow of billions of cash-o-la. Someone forgot about the Golden Goose.

This is one of the reasons why the Web is so revolutionary. While there is an abundance of similar information, there is also an abundance of truly unique commentary. Conversations. Real talk.

But as I think out loud, and I'm thinking about David Weinberger's new book, Small Pieces Loosely Joined, which I just started reading, and he's talking the web as a space, not a medium. We go to places on the web, they aren't delivered to us -- as in the traditional sense of media. Because it's a place where conversations occur, not just the pushing of content, I wonder how we'll ever charge for content on the web. Would you pay a quarter every time you talked to your neighbor?

I say yes and no. I would pay to read some blogs, because they are so valuable. Others I wouldn't. I'd pay for the Wall Street Journal (I don't because my girlfriend does). But that's less conversation, more content...... anyways, enough meandering... back to work.

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