Content wants to be free.
We all want free content.
But somebody has to pay for it, and that somebody is you. And me.
What are we willing to pay to get our content for free? What costs are we willing to pay beyond the monetary?
How much of our privacy are we willing to have invaded to get the information and convenience we desire free of charge?
How good does the content need to be in order for us to part with our hard-earned bucks? I was certainly willing to pay for New York Times opinion articles when the Times Select program was in place, but apparently, there were not enough people like me as the program was discontinued.
Now, the Wall Street Journal is one of the few major content providers to charge for content, but it’s not content I’m willing to pay for. However, when an iPhone app recently appeared that allowed free access to WSJ content, I was all over it. Rupert Murdoch is, apparently, quite upset at the existence of the app, but the technology does not exist to charge iPhone users, yet.
Many sites exact a non-monetary toll, requiring you to create an account that collects personal data that, theoretically, can be used to market products to you. These sites do assume that you are faithful in reproducing your biographical information. I am not. I have signed up for many a site as Phil McCracken, Hugh Jass or Jacques Strappe. Age 104. Etc. (While this makes me feel better, I doubt this small-time deviancy really affects the value of the database.)
But there’s other information about yourself online that you can’t hide from the marketers.
If you have a Gmail account, as I do, you already agree to let Google read your email. Why do you think the ads you see are uncannily related to the content of the message you are reading?
Troubling? Yes. Worth giving up the convenience of my FREE Gmail account? Not yet.
(As an aside, it’s really wonderful when contextual advertising fails spectacularly. See this great juxtoposition between a swine flu story, an advertisement for White Castle’s new pulled pork sandwiches, and the cover of The Jerusalem Post. Kosher? No. Funny. Yes.)
Contextual advertising is just one of the tools the advertisers have to get their meat hooks into us when we’re partaking of the free content.
On a logical level, and this is coming from a former newspaperman, I know that there is a cost to producing content. I know that top-notch, unique content costs even more. For years, I readily paid a nominal fee every day to have that content delivered to my doorstep, but the internet changed the content landscape in a fundamental way.
(Interestingly, I pay more each day for internet service than I ever paid for a newspaper subscription; ironically, none of the money I pay my ISP goes to the content creators. It’s like if my newspaper subscription money just stayed with the paper carrier and never went to the New York Times.)
So I am conflicted. I know that advertising pays for content, but I am used to getting my content for free on the internet and there is a part of me that will do what it takes to make sure I don’t have to pay, monetarily or otherwise. However, there is exceptional content out there that I have paid for in the past and would pay for again rather than go without (Sunday just isn’t Sunday without The Times, printed or not.).
And I have resigned myself to the fact that Google reading my Gmail is probably just the beginning of the future of advertising that’s directed solely at me based on where I have been browsing and what I have been writing. Behavioral targeting is the next step, but that’s another post.
Photo by Fagerjord