Content, content, content. We’re surrounded by it. It joins us on our commute through smartphones and free newspapers, greets us at work in e-mails and on the Web and sometimes it follows us to bed in the form of a good book. In fact, the ubiquitous presence of so much information makes it tempting to think it is a commodity without a price.
In many cases, content is free. It’s available to us in online versions of major newspapers like The New York Times and in blogs by our favorite writers. It’s streaming to you on Pandora.com and is probably available for download anywhere you can get an Internet connection. There’s one thing I know for sure: It’s rarely in print anymore.
In fact, a recent Harris Poll shows that less than 25 percent of 18-34-year olds read a paper each day. Although the majority of readers above the age of 45 are still buying newspapers, their support hasn’t been enough to maintain distribution. As a result, many have been forced to change their business models or shut down entirely.
The question to me is not where we’ll consume our media (online) but what it’s worth to us. Journalists and other trained professionals are still breaking the news in ways that networks like Twitter and Facebook can’t because their function is to interest rather than inform us. (The Pew Center for Research shows that digital-only outlets account for just four percent of original pieces of reporting.) So shouldn’t we pay for traditional media sources?
Apparently, there’s a difference between inclination and obligation. However much we value our news, music, videos and books – we don’t want to spend much money on them. The Harris Poll cited above showed that 77 percent of adults are unwilling to pay anything to read a newspaper online. The adults who are open to a fee advised that they are not willing to pay much: Only one in five of those polled would pay a fee of $1-10 a month for unlimited access to the same information.
As information providers begin to experiment with different ways of delivering to readers and the market responds with their wallets, we’ll begin to see what the future of content really holds for us. In the meantime, you’re likely to see me reading about it – preferably behind a slightly smudged section of newsprint.
By Isa Loundon