Last week saw an event which I believe will go down as one of the most fundamental shifts of the internet age and will mark the end of the honeymoon period we have enjoyed thus far. I'm referring to Rupert Murdoch's News International's decision to start charging for access to The Times and The Sunday Times websites.
From this week you'll pay £1 for a day's access and £2 for a week. Furthermore he is blocking Google and other search engines from spidering the content - in other words News International content will not legally appear in any news feed or news digest.
The jury's out on whether this will work (Murdoch says he's prepared to lose 90% of visitors so long as the remaining 10% pay) but if it does, and my money says it will, then every single news and newspaper website will follow suit faster than you can believe. If you think about it, it has to happen. Every newspaper in the world is losing money and the web advertising revenue is just too widely spread to fund them.
I know it feels like a shame and we are being hard done by, and at odds with the fundamental perceived principles of the internet, but 'reality bites' and in the current climate every word that someone is paid to write is an asset and who can blame the owners of those assets for profiting from them on the web just as they do in print? There is no reason at all why one medium should cost and the other be effectively free, despite the presence of advertising.
My point is, that once the new News International business model is established then every digital product that has any value and can be distributed over the web will come with a price. My guess is that by mid 2011 it will be the norm. Incidently, did you see that I linked value with cost? Remember that old one?!
Projecting further ahead, I think we'll see a whole new raft of businesses floated who aggregate, summarise, and recommend all these paid-for digital products so that you can make an informed choice before subscribing and keying in your credit card number. These advisory services will, of course, cost you.
Look out too for new technologies to help you protect your new valuable digital assets - RSS blockers, cut and paste stoppers, screen grab disablers. And if that fails then happy days for the poor cash-strapped lawyers of this world who will be employed to sue anyone re-publishing paid-for content.
Welcome to the new internet world where content costs; gateways rule; and people of our generation look back on the golden age of free access and free material on demand.
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