The announcement by the New York Times that it will be erecting a pay wall and limiting free access to the vast articles and content provided by the newspaper raises questions about free content at just about any major website. While folks have various tools to access the Internet including smart phones, iPads and tablet PCs, as well as their home computer, all the machines in the world are fairly useless without content to browse.
Meanwhile, Time Warner is under fire from TV networks for providing an iPad app that allows users to stream live TV content over the device for free. The networks and their content providers believe they should be paid extra for allowing their programming to be streamed to the mobile devices. In addition, Comcast was rumored to be launching a similar app later this year. Considering the negative attention it has brought Time Warner, both apps might be history soon.
Gadget owners already pay for accessing data on 3G networks, and while accessing the web via their home Wi-Fi connections is free, they also pay for an Internet connection at their home. Netflix, Hulu Plus, and several other streaming services also charge a fee for their services. While different than the New York Times effort, the idea of charging for accessing web sites is not new.
Web sites that are content driven and not fee driven, think Yahoo versus eBay, generally rely on ads for revenue. Free content is difficult to pull off because it takes money to run the website. Hulu released Hulu Plus, which is a service for a fee, because of this difficulty, and if you have seen “The Social Network” you know how difficult it is to monetize a web site. Plus Twitter fans have already seen that site running ads and sponsored tweets.
Still if the New York Times is successful in their subscription based content scheme, that might make things in cyberspace a little interesting. The focal point being, just how much are web surfers willing to fork over to check in on the news? Assuming the program is successful, where does the line stop?
Free content could become limited. While sites that have massive web traffic, like YouTube, Facebook, Yahoo and more, would likely continue to be free, and sites with limited traffic, like many blogs, would have to stay free just to survive, but sites on the cusp would likely charge a fee just to boost revenue numbers.
The Internet is constantly evolving and growing, and web users everywhere will have to stay tuned to see just how far reaching these pay walls will be.