Thursday, May 7, 2009

Walled Garden Going Up

This is pretty big news for those following the saga of newspapers trying to stay alive in the digital age during a financial crisis. Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation expects within the next 12 months to make users pay to read his papers' online content.

Murdoch, speaking with, claims the pay-for-use model at the Wall Street Journal, which his company owns, shows that users are willing to pay for online newspaper content. I'm fairly confident he's only gotten that partly right. In researching this subject, and writing an essay which I call The Shirky Test for Clay Shirky, on whose essay the test is based, I believe that for general audiences, the pay-for-use online model is dead. For those interested in specific information from a source they believe to be irrefutably valuable, the pay-for-use model changes. More people will be willing to pay for the WSJ online than, say, an ordinary newspaper (like many of the others News Corporation owns).

But the announcement from a big corporation planning to put its content behind a walled garden may embolden others to pursue the same tack. For the walled garden to work, it's got to be an all or nothing venture -- but for all media. There are many folks, like me, who might pay for an occasional story if I can't find the information elsewhere, but I'm not willing to pay for a general subscription. That attitude, however, may be biased by the free-for-all that the Internet has presented us for the last two decades. Readers of the future may be more willing to pay for online content, as many are increasingly willing to pay for digital music, rather than buying a CD. It'll be interesting to follow this arfhebung in the communications industry.

1 comment:

carl g said...

Exactly right. Corporations may buy subscriptions to the WSJ for their execs, but for the rest of us, we'll still get the occasional article we want, but through other means. Just today, as it happens, on specialist listserv I subscribe to, a subscriber posted an article that that relates to the preservation of of ancient texts from today's WSJ. Cut and paste, we all get it. Nothing will stop that.