2010 Watch: To pay or not to pay?

As we continue to search for resolution in the free versus paid for debate, an unlikely meeting of minds has united Rupert Murdoch and DJ Shadow.

Much of the talk throughout 2009 centred around the thorny issue of how media owners could get paid for the content they supply to us web users. The discussion of course ramped up towards the end of the year when Rupert Murdoch began to suggest that he would introduce pay walls to protect the content distributed by the various arms of his media empire.

But as we head into 2010, are we actually any clearer on whether or not consumers are likely to pay for things online – or whether media owners can actually construct effective pay walls to keep us out? Will 2010 be the year when we figure out whether we want to pay for content online?

The year kicked off with an interesting contribution to the free versus paid for debate when Joshua Davis (AKA DJ Shadow) published this hugely entertaining post on his website arguing that the free model evolving in the music industry is stifling creativity to the point where “at this rate, we’ll be stuck with Coldplay for decades”.

The debate is subtitled with the tongue in cheek warning that this is a “rambling tirade from a 37-year old technophobe”. This may very well be the case, and Davis does acknowledge that “most think that I should stop whining, grow up and embrace the Internet, become more active, tweet more, hype more, give more stuff away, etc, etc”. But his refusal to embrace the free model – “I won’t give my art away. I’d rather sell it to 100 people who value it as I do than give it away to 1000 who could care less” – is an interesting one. In this sense we can begin to see an unexpected link between Davis and Rupert Murdoch.

So where does the answer lie? As we embrace a new decade, commentators are already falling over themselves to find the saviour of traditional media.

Looking specifically at the newspaper industry, a number of operators are managing to make a success of the premium, paid for model. The Financial Times and IGN.com’s IGN Insider are good examples of this. Looking at technological solutions to the problem, the news that 70,000 people shelled out £2.39 for the Guardian’s iPhone app is encouraging. It has also been suggested that the Skiff Reader, unveiled recently at the Consumer Electronics Show, could offer a much needed boost. But it’s to Apple’s tablet device that most people are looking for salvation – January 27th can’t come quick enough.

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  • I personally have some sympathy for DJ Shadow’s point of view. Why should we expect everything to be free these days? I don’t think technophobia has anything to do with it. If an individual or business can’t make money from what it creates then eventually they will stop or go bust.
    The crux of the issue is therefore to ensure that what you create is percieved to be of value and worth paying for. If you can control access, that is. I am personally encouraged that the Guardian’s iPhone app has done well, it shows the power of their brand. As for the indiividual without brand clout, things are probably not going to get any easier any time soon.
    Looks like we are going to have to get used to a diet of Coldplay…