What Price Content?

Would you pay $5 to read this article?

I’m not delusional, folks. I know the answer is a resounding no.

But would you pay something minimal, like a penny a page, to read this stuff? If we set up some type of balance that gets charged every time you took a peek at my column or writings offered by other ClickZ authors, sort of along the lines of how a phone card works, would you pay these micropayments just to grab a quick read?

I bring the issue up because when I started this column, I mentioned that one of the reasons web content is so feeble is that there just isn’t a lot of moola on the blinking screen (for writers that is, not for all you IPO-crazed high rollers). Maybe, I suggested, if content-rich sites had a better way to make money, the remuneration would be better for authors, and content quality would follow.

Granted, a penny payment will get very few writers a home in Los Altos Hills, Calif. But if my columns were so brilliant that I gained a substantial following and I kept pounding them out for a year or so, I’d make more than pocket change.

Fantastic, huh? Surely we’d have copy that would make the masters in netizenland weep. It would be a virtual Athens out there; utter genius would flow from the keyboard to every web site. Right?

Well, I’m not so sure. In fact, I know that it most likely wouldn’t be the case. We’ve all seen enough Hollywood bombs to know that high-priced screenwriters don’t always do their salaries justice. And maybe there’s just too much of Lucy Liberal in me to think the web is only for those with Visa cards.

What about the struggling student who barely got the shekels together to get a computer and online account? Now he or she would have to shell out more cash for the “privilege” of reading web site content. Granted, the Wall Street Journal charges subscriptions for its web site, but it’s the Wall Street Journal. I can’t remember ever reading a Wall Street Journal editorial in favor of the struggling masses.

There are also technical considerations. For example, if there’s a link in my column, who gets the payment if you click away your cash on my links? And who is going to be the first to set up such a system at the risk of raising the ire of loyal readers?

Maybe the remuneration for really good writers should be in syndication. You could either go it on your own or work out a deal with some of the bigger syndicators, such as iSyndicate. Of course, if everyone syndicated his or her wares to other web sites, we’d continue to have the vanilla sameness that prevails on so many sites. (I have long speculated that there are only six original stories on the Internet being pushed by every so-called content provider.) But let’s not worry about overloading the web with your brilliant material. Let’s suppose syndication is the way to go.

To syndicate, you’d have to be a fairly prolific writer, producing on a regular schedule. You’d also need to have some pretty solid stuff for a client to purchase and maybe even a well-known name to generate initial interest. There’s also the issue of keeping your own site unique so that you don’t drive readers to just your client’s site.

I do like the idea of syndication as a way to better compensate writers, though, because it puts the transaction into the B2B world and lets my downtrodden student sail the Internet without a charge card. If it were up to me, I’d leave the charge card out of the content business and let the e-commerce and porn sites worry about the expiration date on your plastic.

Maybe time will tell, and in years to come, Internet content will be so intriguing that there will be more justification for even my sweet, starving student to have to spend his or her last dime for a glimpse of some writer’s wonderful copy. In the meantime, I suggest you find other ways to fairly compensate Internet content writers so that you get your site up to speed and interesting.

That’s it for this week. And just think: You got to read it without paying even a dime!

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