Info Doesn’t Want to Be Free. How to Pay for It

Somehow we came to believe that in the Internet Age, all information has the same monetary value. So if we can get content for free, why not? Why pay for something when we can get the same thing at no charge?

As a result, paid content sources suffer economically and the number of free resources explodes.

As an unpaid blogger, why should I care?

I care because there are only certain types of writing I do for free. Mostly I express my own opinions, perhaps based on a limited amount of background research.

I sure as hell don’t do investigative reporting or in-depth study.

Years ago I was rather undiscriminating in what I read and I signed up for mediocre email newsletters and such because everything was a novelty. Today I am weeding out what I read and raising my standards.

I never thought I would pay more for information, given that so much is available for free. However, I find myself valuing fee-based, professionally written and edited content so highly that I would be willing to pay for it if there was a way to pay per article.

I subscribe to the Trib in both electronic and print formats. (Print is kind of redundant but I don’t wish to drop toast crumbs and melted butter onto my tablet at the breakfast table. Plus I like working the crosswords in pencil.) So there’s no problem there.

However, I often find articles in newspapers such as the New York Times and Washington Post, as well as magazines like The Atlantic and The New Yorker, that I may not subscribe to. Then I may receive a pop-up to subscribe; the New York Times even restricts the number of articles you can access per month without a subscription.

I have no intention of subscribing to out-of-town papers, and I can’t afford every national publication that may run something of interest.

There’s got to be a better way. So here is my crack at it.

The solution

The solution is a consortium of publications that charges readers via a single account and then distributes the funds to participating organizations. (Of course, publication subscribers could continue to get everything for a flat fee outside this consortium.)

It should be easy and fast to use but let the user know with each transaction that he is being charged. It may look something like I-PASS (with an automatic, advance deposit into the account to keep it replenished) or like Amazon Prime, where the user is charged for each separate transaction at the time of purchase.

I don’t know what it should cost. Perhaps 50 cents per article? Or some fee related to number of words or bytes? Some type of package deal?

What readers would get

The overriding benefit would be more articles of higher quality, especially subjects that require the amount of effort that is only practical for paid writers.

However, another benefit would be more comments, professionally moderated.

Comments can be a real pain in the butt to monitor. My previous blog, with a very small readership, still got loads of spam I had to weed.

Paid access would enable publications to have paid staff reviewing and running acceptable submissions and blocking the rest. This would motivate readers to not only buy the article in the first place but to revisit it as comments are added.

Because electronic does not have the same space restrictions as print, there could be far more comments. Experts would be more willing to submit comments because they would be more certain their contributions will be published.

Also, online comments allow for more back-and-forth, more conversation, than print, where selected letters on a given article generally run on a single date with no follow-up responses.

What do you think?

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Filed under: info publishing

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