Monday, April 15, 2013

Paywalls - Private Boom, Public Bust

A large-scale global survey of "high-end decision makers" suggests the end of the open Web will come quickly.  The survey, from pricing consultant Simon-Kucher & Partners, found that the content executives expected that 90% of online content was likely to be behind a paywall within three years.  Two-thirds of media companies indicated that they expected to introduce fees for most of their online content within the next few years.  A quarter of media companies indicated that the move would significantly increase their profit margins at the expense of the public.

Paywalls, by imposing costs, deflate demand.  Even if we're talking online about commercially produced content, restricting access will have a meaningful detrimental impact on access to, and use of, content.  That not only impacts the media companies that create and/or distribute content, but impacts individuals, society, and the public sphere as well.  In an increasingly information-driven economy and society, restricting access to information (or even information about information) is not in the public interest.  And the impact of paywalls would be significantly more problematic when thinking about journalism, science, educational and cultural content.  And if the fees are high enough, that will encourage individuals to shift their focus to the 10% that will likely remain free - the propaganda and unchecked and unfiltered content that critics already rail against.  Shifting almost all content behind paywalls will also create a new digital divide - this one expressly between the rich and the poor.  It also won't make advertisers in paywalled media happy.
   If the Web had grown up behind paywalls, users may be more accepting of fees - but we've had generations used to free content, and they're likely to resist being asked to pay for things they're used to getting for free.  The 'free for all" culture has already contributed to the rise of political movements in some European countries.  Pushing a new digital divide for higher profits isn't likely to be widely welcomed.

Source -  90% of online content to be held behind paywalls in three years media company survey suggestsThe Drum

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