5 Years of Free Internet Left?

I saw this the other day on ZDNet and wanted to say a couple of things. I promise to make this short and not ramble on too much.  I’ve been cooking this response for the past couple of days, and it may still not be fully there yet…

At the Advertising 2.0 conference, Barry Diller, Chairman and CEO of the IAC, an interactive services company raking in over $1.5 billion dollars in revenue a year, stated that the free internet would soon be a thing of the past.

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Picture from ZDNet.

I can see this, but also hope that it doesn’t happen. One of the biggest problems with content on the internet is that most of it lacks what PROFESSIONAL writers will call quality.  Many blogs and bloggers pick up on a post at one site, pass it on, and assume that the content is correct because the repeating blogger saw it “in print” somewhere.  Just because it’s written down, doesn’t make it accurate or true. Unfortunately, many people just don’t get that.

It kinda reminds me of the movie, “Wag the Dog,” with Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman, “it must be true…I saw it on TV.”

The quality of online content has dropped a great deal in the last 10 years, I think, largely because the revenue model for that content can’t be sustained by online advertising.  As many enthusiast site owners will tell you, that money often barely pays for site hosting and other site necessities, let alone paying for good writers and accurate, researched, verified…quality content.

Barry Diller thinks that anything worthwhile on the Internet will move to some kind of subscription, or pay as you go model.  According to him, the only thing that is holding up this transition is some kind of universal micro-payment method similar to the iPhone App Store/The iTunes Music Store or Amazon’s One Click. After that, free content on the Internet will go the way of the do-do…

In that world, you pay for access to the Internet (your ISP bill) and then also pay for your NYT/WSJ/what ever subscription, or you don’t go anywhere or do anything. If things evolve the way Barry Diller thinks, items like Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, etc. will start charging membership fees. You’ll essentially be charged coming and going; and the way the economy is going, I see a huge problem evolving.

While I agree that most consumers want quality content (not everyone wants the “Inquirer” styled  content ALL the time…I mean, how many times can you read about Elvis and aliens and not throw up??), not everyone can, will, or wants to pay for it.  We’re stuck in a catch 22 – without quality content, the Internet won’t evolve.  In order to get quality content, we’re going to have to pay for it.  Most people don’t have the money and/or won’t pay for something they’ve been getting for free for the last 15 or so years.

Barry Diller states that people have always paid for content and will continue to do so.  I agree and disagree.  While people will pay for some content, dating sites and the like are some examples he cites, the bulk of what they consume is free.  If this is going to work, the transition from free to paid will have to be gradual or else people will back off and reject the model entirely. I’m not certain that 5 years will be enough time to change the model and paradigm.

Do you agree with what Barry Diller is saying?  Why don’t you join us in the discussion and let us know what you think?

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