Friday, 7 August 2009

Something for nothing?

You can see why I like the internet. I do, after all, have a reputation for having a very good eye for a bargain. And once I get on the internet, I can get huge amounts for free, including the content of most newspapers. It all seems a little too good to be true, however, since I generally hold to the adage that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

And sure enough, Mr. Rupert Murdoch thinks that it is ridiculous that one can read his newspapers free on the internet, and is planning to make changes. By the end of next June, online readers of his publications will have to pay. "Quality journalism is not cheap,” says Mr. Murdoch, “and an industry that gives away its content is simply cannibalising its ability to produce good reporting." And it is not only quality journalism that is expensive. Even the most shoddy journalism costs money.

Well, if one has an eye for a bargain, then getting things for free is about as good as it gets. I remain amazed that I can use Blogger for nothing. I reckon that there must be a catch somewhere. And the most obvious one is that the bubble will burst, and we’ll have to pay for everything.

The curious thing is that I remember reading an article 10 or 12 years ago about the future of the internet. It basically said “The future is that free stuff will disappear, and we are going to have to pay for what we view.” And I held my breath and waited, and nothing happened.

I have no idea what will happen. On the one hand, Mr. Murdoch is a pretty shrewd judge of money matters, and if he plans to start charging, then maybe that is what the future will be. And, as I say, my gut feeling is that there is no such thing as a free lunch.

On the other hand, there is also vanity publishing, not to mention altruism. There will always be some people who will want to make good content available online, and who will not charge for it. As long as (and that is the key phrase) it is not too expensive for them to do so, they will do so. And as long as they do so, those who try to charge will find it rather difficult to do business.

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