The Paid Internet

If you owned a record store ten years ago and I walked in the front door and asked you to give me some of the merchandise you were currently selling, you'd likely throw me out on my butt.

However, at the serious onset of the Internet in 2000, business establishments, retailers, publishers and entertainment companies knowingly cooperated with the emerging free Internet and began to giveaway content for free.

In some cases, businesses resisted and consumers did a workaround. I'm thinking of the record industry where young people found ways to steal music, share it illegally or quasi-legally through bit torrent sites.

One of the few entertainment industry execs who refused to go along with free then was Mel Karmazin who was presiding over CBS/Infinity at the time. Mel's reasoning was that he was not about to give away content that he owned without being able to monetize it.

And monetization of the Internet worked better for some people than others -- namely Google who came along a little more than ten years ago and started selling search and the ads that surround search.

Google was an interloper.

It wasn't CBS. Wasn't Warner Records.

Google was a poacher, if you will, distributing other people's content -- the content the originators paid to put together. But Google made its billions by offering someone else's proprietary content to everyone in cyberspace. While they were at it, they made money off of that content without incurring the expense.

Few would argue that if Google had to actually run The Wall Street Journal rather than distribute its content for free, Google would be out of business on day one.

Instead the myth of the free Internet took hold.

Soon media companies and others panicked into thinking that if they didn't start offering their content for nothing, that they would miss the Internet revolution.

So they did.

Now some companies are considering withholding content from the public and/or search engines like Google and dare to make the public pay or the distributor pay.

And that's what I'm seeing.

I know this is controversial because I, too, have become spoiled getting The Wall Street Journal and New York Times for free instead of the whopping $900 a year it costs for print subscriptions to both.

Rupert Murdoch is now challenging the free Internet -- Murdoch is the owner of News Corp that publishes The Wall Street Journal and other publications. Competitors have tried to charge money for subscriptions and have failed -- The New York Times being one of them, although the Times is said to be close to approving a paid model (more here)

True, there are online niche publications that charge subscription fees but they are the minority and their content is specialized. And Murdoch himself was thought to be tinkering with making the Journal's paid site (they were an early adopter to paid subscriptions) free theorizing that free meant more eyeballs for advertisers.

Advertising isn't going away.

But the totally free Internet is.

Chris Anderson, author of Free disputes this in his excellent book. Anderson believes paid comes after free in the form of enhanced content. Ask ESPN -- that egg was laid a long time ago. Not much of a business model.

The reason I mention all of this today is I spent the weekend putting the finishing touches on the lesson plans for my upcoming Media Solutions Lab. One thing I am going to address is the prospect of the paid Internet -- what it means to the radio industry, records, new media, publishing and individual entrepreneurs.

We know this -- in the era of "free", Apple has ignored the free Internet.

You want anything from the iTunes store, you pay for it. You want apps, there is only one door to walk through in the virtual world and you'll pay Apple for it.

I am going to explain to the attendees at my Media Solutions Lab how micropayments will change everything. This blog for example will likely be $99 a year before the end of the year. But you can subscribe by the month. It's true that when "free" ends, many, many customers will not or cannot pay for the content but the ones who will are the ones the content will be customized for going forward.

Imagine the music and entertainment streams that can be accessed by people willing to pay a reasonable micropayment for them. The free Internet will always be available -- don't get me wrong. But those who embrace free as a business model must compete in a world of seemingly infinite competitors all looking to sell cheap ads for revenue.

I had that same problem when I intended to do my Media Solutions Lab with the traditional model -- sponsors. But sponsors want to book themselves as speakers and prejudice the debate. I decided to go to the fee-only model and it appears to be working out well. I have found a group of entrepreneurs and media business execs who value what they will get on January 28.

With Apple expected to introduce its portable tablet on the eve of the Media Solutions Lab, we will begin to see the future in a new way. Imagine, radio talent can build a brand, distribute it through the iTunes store while consumers can easily access that brand on mobile devices like the tablet. There are all sorts of options ahead.

Radio stations struggling to become part of the digital future could -- with some retraining and open-minded thinking -- develop streams of revenue that could constitute a growth business to make up for the slow decline in terrestrial radio revenue.

So as you see, we have a lot to talk about at the Media Solutions Lab (see the full agenda here).

You read me to hear it straight -- unfiltered by political correctness or influenced by advertiser's agendas -- and I want you to know that if you're expecting to master the paid Internet without being able to acknowledge that it is coming, you're hog tying yourself in the digital future.

On the other hand, if you are willing to track the changes we are beginning to see now and learn how to brainstorm ways to use them to your advantage, you've got a new media growth tiger by the tail.

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