Content: Land of the Free?

No medium has ever taken more flak than the Web. And online advertising… well, don’t get me started. Brace yourself. Another round of fire is coming.

When you pick up a daily newspaper or magazine, do you think about the number of ads inside? Probably not (unless you’re in sales). The Web represents a double standard. Users and pundits alike bash anything and everything on it, from clutter to content to connection speed. They say there’s an overabundance of online advertising; Web ads can’t covey brand personality and evoke emotion like TV; the Web is littered with detritus from porn to pop-ups. Criticism and ignorance aside, these people remain Net junkies. The Internet is part of their daily lives. Communication, secure transactions, information, entertainment, investing… content is limitless and available to all.

The online world developed rapidly. Sites became more robust, more informative, cleaner, and cleverer. Good ones became destinations and built community. How priceless. People kept coming back for more.

Boom! Content became king. Everyone needed it: consumers, publishers, and advertisers. No one could get enough. Demand became greater as users became smarter. They also grew savvier. Publishers and advertisers rushed to keep up, let alone stay ahead of the curve. Inevitably, the rush derailed many a site.

Companies folded, employees were canned. Stocks tanked. The media wrote reams about the empty promises of the online world.

As all this was going on, hardware, software, and tool prices fell to an all-time low. Almost anyone could afford a computer and Web access. Speed accelerated from agonizingly slow to rip-roaring fast. Creative blossomed. Streaming audio and video danced and sang across monitors. Still, people wanted more.

Internet Darwinism kicked the &*%$ out of the survivors. “Survival of the fittest” made sites and advertisers cheer or weep (depending on their personal degree of fitness). Now, the survivors’ content was king. They started trading and selling it all over the place.

Publishers caught on. The ones who survived had traffic. They had community. They had content that was still king. They had what everyone wanted… and were giving it away for free.

When publishers caught on, they worked the numbers. Their rallying cry became “Free to Fee!” Sites began to charge for content. Pundits and users again were outraged and felt betrayed.

So I ask you, dear readers, is this fair, or do you feel duped?

Were eyeballs lured or deceived into reading content over the years? Was falsehood involved? Is paid content taking advantage of the users?

A new Jupiter study reports fully 70 percent of wired adults polled do not understand why anyone would pay for online content. However, Jupiter anticipates revenues for all fee-based Internet content will reach $5.8 billion by the year 2006, up from a projected $1.4 billion this year. Let’s take a closer look at the numbers:

  • General content sites (not including online games and digital music) will bring in $2.3 billion in 2006, up from $700 million last year.

  • Within general content, audio and video entertainment will be among the biggest moneymakers in 2006, bringing in $600 million.

  • Adult entertainment will follow, with $400 million.

  • Business and financial content will account for $350 million.

  • Some types of general content are expected to have a tougher time getting users to pay for access. These include shopping-aid sites, estimated to bring in just $85 million in 2006; and sport-related sites, bringing in only $95 million.

  • In contrast, revenue from online games should hit $1.8 billion by 2006, up from $260 million last year. Online music is expected to reach $1.7 billion in 2006, up significantly from $30 million in 2001.

Resist paying for now. Soon, you’ll have little choice.

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