A Polemic on Cheap and Free Content

If you find it distressing that those low-paying organizations like Demand Media that distribute written content for practically nothing, Ad Age points out that free content can pull in high paying advertisers just as well. It is interesting to note that the article uses as an example of the new form of writer, i.e., one who is willing to do it for nothing, a young man who started writing sports articles while he was waiting for his bar exam results, and is still doing it for nothing many hundreds of articles later.  This young man, meanwhile, having failed the bar 3 times, is being supported by his parents as he hones his craft. I wonder how long they are going to allow this practice to continue.  The article also points out that the Huffington Post is perhaps the mother lode of all free content.  It is, and most of the content in it which has any value at all is either written by one of the 53 editors that HuffPo pays, or taken from some other source that pays its writers, like the NY Times.  What this says about the future of journalism is more than distressing.  There is a place for journalism of the people, by the people and for the people, and it can even work in concert with the more elite kind. Yet, I find it hard to believe that there will not always be a need for writers who can actually write, for investigative journalism, and for content that is meaningful.

To make this point, perhaps, Nick Bilton’s Bits Blog notes that the content products for digital devices, like the iPad, are really being thought out, as publishers try to find a mix of content, design and community that make them stand out from their free web content.  Many of the magazine apps are rejecting the commentary and social aspect of their web counterparts.  On the Wired iPad app, for instance, readers cannot copy and paste links or text, comment or share on Twitter, or “like” an article on Facebook. Time Magazine’s app does not allow for sharing or linking. Another Condé Nast product, Gourmet (which shuttered its print version last fall), will be reborn in the fourth quarter as an app, which will have social aspects built into it.  This suggests, as some analysts have pointed out, that the lack of social connection on apps is because the mags haven’t quite figured out how to do it yet.  It really behooves publishers to make these apps as striking as possible, since they are behind a pay wall.  Time , meanwhile, is moving the current content of most of its magazines behind that app paywall. Their policy will be to “… use the web for breaking news and ‘commodity’ type of news; (news events of any type, stock prices, sports scores) and keep (most of) the features and longer analysis for the print publication and iPad versions.”

And speaking of magazines, you know those little subscription cards that fall out every time you open one up?  Turns out, they are, or soon will be, a complete waste, as Folio reports that 24 per cent of subscriptions that are sold by publishers come from the web.


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