Monday, July 27, 2009

Information wants to be free vs Information wants to be expensive,

GRUBSTREET: My guess is that if anyone in traditional media has the vision to do so, it will be Naspers, owners of Media24, which already does very nicely out of its pay-TV operation and has its finger in all sorts of other nifty little pies such as MXit.

But then Naspers can't even be called a traditional media company anymore. They may own papers such as Beeld, Rapport and the Daily Sun but they're literally streets ahead of the likes of Avusa, Caxton and the Independent when it comes to new media - and they're doing it in lucrative emerging markets across the world, such as China and Russia.

SHOOT: Some interesting thoughts here, but I disagree in one major area. Stewart Brand may have been talking about 'cost' when he said information wants to be free. I think we have all taken the lateral meaning of that - meaning 'information wants to be distributed, wants to be released, and found and searched for and explored'. That is the treasure of the concept. And more valuable information can be expensive. As soon as you charge money for information, you can expect to see users decimated, and by implication, the providers. In the real world, nothing is for nothing. I see the future having far fewer media companies, and the survivors will charge because they have to, and users will pay for content because they have to. The something for nothing mindset is a temporary aberration associated with the idea that energy is cheap and abundant and always will be. Like real news and valuable information, it's not.
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It turns out that what Brand actually said at the first Hackers' Conference in 1984 (in response to a question by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak ) was: "On the one hand, information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other."

It got me thinking about what I'm prepared to pay for as traditional media houses across the world wrestle with monetising their online content.

I would pay for a big SA news portal such as IOL, News24, Mail & Guardian or The Times - but only one - and only if they were all charging for access.

The current thinking internationally is that hyper local is the way to go. I guess the gurus forgot to pass the memo along to the traditional media houses in South Africa.
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