Monday, March 18, 2002

End of the Free Content Ride?

With the boon of the web a few years ago, sites competed with one another by acting like portals, trying to see who could post the most news and otherwise free content possible to keep people coming back. As the portal model has fallen away, and the 'net economy has tightened up, it seems some formerly free sources of information are starting to expect something in return.

Jupiter Media Metrix claims that 42% of online adults are willing to pay for content, down from 45% in August of 2000. However, there are some murmurings that the industry might be moving away from free content regardless.

CNN's decision to phase out free video clips on its new, sports, and financial sites is just one example, following ABC News' example. RealNetworks is selling a SuperPass with a monthly price tag that allows access to multimedia from ABC News, Fox Sports, NASCAR, and even pro baseball and basketball, and they've already garnered some 500,000 subscribers. Salon magazine made that move last year, moving much of its content to a premium service.

Jupiter's report suggests that paid online content will grow to a $5.8 billion industry by 2006, up from $1.4 billion in 2002. They attribute the expected growth to widespread access to broadband, as well as people just buying into the model of paying for much of their content online.

Of course, free doesn't always mean money. More and more sites are requiring registration to access content, making users decide if their personal information is a fair trade. This customer information is a form of currency you can see in places like download.com, where they now require registration to download software.

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