PAID CON­TENT?

PUB­LISH­ERS ARE LOOK­ING FOR NEW WAYS TO CHARGE READ­ERS FOR ON­LINE AR­TI­CLES, BUT SO ARE GOOGLE AND AP­PLE. THE FU­TURE OF THE WEB MAY BE AS A PAID-FOR PLAT­FORM, EX­PLAINS

PC & Tech Authority - - CONTENTS - NI­COLE KOBIE

Why you could soon be pay­ing for the web as pub­lish­ers are look­ing for new ways to charge read­ers for on­line ar­ti­cles

His­tor­i­cally, the web has been free – giv­ing the idea away with­out charg­ing roy­al­ties was Sir Tim Bern­ers-Lee’s main in­no­va­tion, af­ter all – but a num­ber of fac­tors point to a paid-for fu­ture. Most scary of all: it might be con­trolled by a Google pay­wall or yet an­other Ap­ple sub­scrip­tion.

It started with mu­sic. Record la­bels tried their best to dig­i­tally pro­tect al­bums and songs, but the ease of piracy and rise of Nap­ster meant that a gen­er­a­tion of web users saw pay­ing for mu­sic as vol­un­tary to the point of be­ing stupid.

This cul­ture didn’t change due to harsh crack­downs on mu­sic pi­rates, but be­cause of the sim­plic­ity of buy­ing songs and sub­scrip­tion stream­ing ser­vices such as Spo­tify. Ac­cord­ing to the Record­ing In­dus­try As­so­ci­a­tion of Amer­ica, mu­sic rev­enues in 2017 rose for the sec­ond year in a row, the first time that’s hap­pened since 1999. Sim­i­lar evo­lu­tions have fol­lowed for tele­vi­sion and movies, thanks to ser­vices such as Net­flix and Hulu.

So where does that leave news and other writ­ten con­tent? “Such a shift has al­ready been go­ing on for a while,” said Pro­fes­sor Vili Le­hdon­virta, dig­i­tal econ­o­mist at the Ox­ford In­ter­net In­sti­tute, adding that iTunes and Spo­tify suc­ceeded over free piracy be­cause of con­ve­nience – and that hasn’t yet hap­pened for news. “Con­trast that with some on­line news­pa­pers when you just want to read that story, you still have to give them credit card de­tails and set up an ac­count. There’s quite a few hur­dles.”

We’ve seen the costs of re­ly­ing on ad­ver­tis­ing: rev­enues not only aren’t strong enough, but be­havioural track­ing tech­nolo­gies gob­ble up our data, spurring a quar­ter of users to in­stall ad block­ers, ac­cord­ing to the In­ter­net Ad­ver­tis­ing Bureau.

Plenty of ideas have been kicked around to fund the next few years of the in­ter­net, from mi­cro­pay­ments and mem­ber­ships (The Guardian, which is close to break­ing even) to pay­walls (The Times and The New York Times) to sub­scrip­tion ser­vices, a so-called “Spo­tify for news”. Each of those meth­ods has likely been tried by a pub­lisher whose sto­ries, jour­nal­ism or other con­tent you read or watch.

“There isn’t a sil­ver bul­let busi­ness model that’s go­ing to save the in­dus­try,” said Pete Brown, se­nior re­search fel­low at the Tow Cen­ter for Dig­i­tal Jour­nal­ism at Columbia Univer­sity. “Right now, I’m not mas­sively con­cerned about the big play­ers. It’s lo­cal jour­nal­ism that has far more to worry about, in terms of find­ing sus­tain­able busi­ness mod­els that en­able them to do the work we all need them to do.”

The chal­lenge is con­ve­nience for read­ers and ease for pub­lish­ers. Like the mu­sic

“Search – and Google in par­tic­u­lar – ob­vi­ously drives a lot of traf­fic, so news out­lets have been look­ing to Google for help”

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