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The payment question

by Giles Turnbull -- 2001/04/10

So, now we're in the middle of the dotcom downturn, can we expect people to be paying for content? Don't bank on it.

The media industry (by which I mean magazines, newspapers, and TV stations) is looking back on the last couple of years with an understandable feeling of shock.

This was the industry that everyone criticised for not adapting to the web. Then, just as soon as it did, the crash came and suddenly all those web sites were worth nothing. In many cases, they were a burden.

On both sides of the Atlantic, media companies have been drastically slashing their web production budgets. Some sites have disappeared completely. Others have had to limp along with basic content managed by a skeleton staff.

Even once great sites, like FT.com are now a shadow of what they once were, because the companies paying for them (in this case, FT owner Pearson) cannot see how to make them pay.

So now the question arises: Why can't we make people pay to read stuff?

This Guardian article quotes The Industry Standard saying:

A website is no longer considered a potential cash cow, but a necessary expense - a way to sell subscriptions while building credibility and brand awareness.

Then it adds, gloomily:

So after five years of web literacy, we are back to where we started.

Perhaps that's so. But people investing in web content need to remember why they made it free in the first place. Because for every web page demanding payment, there was always another offering a similar service, or similar content, for free. Even in this depressed marketplace, that still holds true.