Commentary

The Word, According to Facebook

Charge 'em for the lice, extra for the mice
Two percent for looking in the mirror twice
Here a little slice, there a little cut
Three percent for sleeping with the window shut

"Master of the House"
Les Miserables

That 15 year-old, all-you-can-eat smorgasbord called the Internet is coming to an end. Oh, that doesn't mean they are taking all of the platters back to the kitchen, only the good stuff like the crab claws, roast beef and the guacamole. The celery sticks and cheddar cubes will always be there, but kiss goodbye the shrimp, the rack of lamb, and the chocolate-covered strawberries.

The hard part will be watching the various attempts to become Master of the Internet House. What will be the best approach? Nickel and dime users to death by charging on a per story basis; wall off the "good stuff" hoping that you and your audience agree what the "good stuff" really is (something the mighty New York Times got all wrong a few years ago); lock the door and try to sell tickets for set periods like 24 hours or a week? Or just bite the bullet and go all the way with "no pay, no way" in to any content?

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Whoever goes first will be like the guy diving into the muddy water hoping he doesn't break his neck on a submerged rock. Everyone else will be standing on the river banks yelling encouragement, "Jump you chicken shit -- don't be a pussy!" If the sound of a baseball bat hitting a coconut doesn't come back from the water, it will be "Everybody in the pool!!!"

Then we will see who can swim.

It has been hard to put a fixed value on content even before the Internet. Pricing was based on the elusive notion that good content attracted good audiences which could be sold products and services through advertising. And you could charge a little extra if you delivered the content right to the front porch, mailbox or family room. The advent of video tape (later, DVDs and DVRs) and cable TV comprised the notion of box office pricing to see a movie and stripped away the idea of appointment TV putting ad rates at risk. Paperbacks compromised hardcovers. TV news and the march of time compromised all but the biggest (or most local) newspaper stories. Then early on in the Internet age the race for eyeballs compromised any notion of paid content for all but the most niche products. Who didn't embrace Google with open arms? Traffic was going to be the new coin of the realm.

The Great Eastern Establishment Media will now hold its collective breath to see what kind of raw value audiences put on their content. Pay per view and iTunes offer some encouragement. But, will enough of us pay $1: to watch last week's episode of Breaking Bad? To read the lead story in the New York Times on the new Supreme Court nominee? To watch a 15 minute video on how to cheer up a living room with low ceilings and only one window? To get Fred Wilson's current insights into the venture capital markets? That is if there is only a single source for any of this information and access to it can be tightly controlled in order to collect the toll. Even then, someone acting on some warped sense of civil disobedience since information "yearns to be free," will cut and paste copy from behind firewalls and hang it out there for everyone else to access for free.

We can keep stealing the toilet paper from the hotel room or we can grow up and realize that if we don't help pay for content we like, it will slowly disappear. And in the case of news organizations that will be a national tragedy beyond all measure. If you really think you can keep up via Tweets and local TV news, think of the importance of vast recording keeping on everything from your favorite flavor of religion to education to medicine to the general march of civilization. Once the presses stop archaeologists will be reduced to reading Facebook walls to piece together a true picture of our life and times.

How scary is that?

11 comments about "The Word, According to Facebook".
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  1. Alan Stamm, May 29, 2009 at 9:34 a.m.

    Really, George . . . this is how you want to reinforce solid points for a professional readership? With schoolyard slurs?

    Sure, we've all heard and used that language. But most of us have grown up enough to recognize when and where they're appropriate -- if ever, in the case of your gone-too-far second one.

    Slinging phrases such as "chicken ----" and "don't be a -----!" doesn't make you one of the cool kids. It just makes you look like you're trying to be one.

    Sad to see an otherwise sensible essay dragged into the gutter.

  2. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications, May 29, 2009 at 9:58 a.m.

    Welcome, clearly you are a new reader.

  3. Ali Croft from Just Drive Media, May 29, 2009 at 10:06 a.m.

    This article contradicts itself. In one paragraph you state that the only way charging for content will work is if "there is only a single source for any of this information and access to it can be tightly controlled in order to collect the toll." And in the next you say that people need to grow up and realize they have to pay for good content.

    There are certain premium publishers that will charge for content and be successful. The Wall Street Journal is an example of someone doing this now, but there will be others. Anyone providing real value will see this. But not everyone will be able to do this, and not everyone should. Newspapers have always been ad supported. Just because we're seeing businesses fail with their online ventures because the ad dollars aren't adding up to what they thought they would, doesn't mean content can't be ad supported. Publishers that provide valuable content will retain valuable audiences, and those that learn how to monetize those valuable audiences will win. Not everyone who thought they could make a living blogging will be able to do so. But we have only skimmed the surface of the potential of online advertising. As we learn how to better target - again, provide more value to audiences - we'll start to see what online advertising can do. And some publishers will fall by the wayside. That's how competition works, and there's nothing wrong with that. News will not disappear. If anything we'll lose some of the fluff, which will be a good thing.

  4. David Knapp from Pinnacle Advertising, May 29, 2009 at 10:08 a.m.

    You nailed it Alan. I had to reread it because I couldn't believe someone would actually publish this. It obfuscated any point the author was trying to make.

  5. Alan Stamm, May 29, 2009 at 11:10 a.m.

    Thanks for your welcome note, GHS, though actually I'm a longtime reader who previously admired the lighthearted approach of 'Over the Line.'

    This time, though, I respectfully submit that you literally went over the line of propriety, decency and sensitivity to the deeply offensive origins of that 'P' word.

    I posted with constructive intent, George, and hope you'll at least consider that your filter may have failed in this instance . . . as all of ours do at times, I know well.

  6. David Steinberger from Gomper, May 29, 2009 at 12:25 p.m.

    I completely agree that consumers ultimately will start paying for valuable content. But that happens AFTER advertisers start paying consumers for our valuable eyeballs.

    I'm certianly not letting you buy and sell my time, attention and personal information AND charge me for doing it. Surely you can't be suggesting that?

    The reason articles like this make no sense is because they are built on an old foundation. This notion that consumers have been feeding off the teet of benevolant and charitbable media companies for decades is so bogus and one sided.

    Media companies have been selling you and me for years and at the same time, crying that consumers get free lunch. Advertisers are not paying for the content. They are paying for access to ME. Media companies don't own me, yet they profit from me. There's the free lunch. More on my blog at OurSeatAtTheTable.com

    -Dave

  7. George Simpson from George H. Simpson Communications, May 29, 2009 at 12:31 p.m.

    Perhaps I am too influenced by teenagers, but I chose words applicable to the situation and thought it humorous to juxtapose "encouragement" with "Jump you chicken shit -- don't be a pussy!"

    Have you seen a PG 13 movie lately? Never the less, I am sorry if you are offended by such language.

  8. Alan Stamm, May 29, 2009 at 3:33 p.m.

    Ok, last comment in good-faith effoit to explain as clearly as possible, George:

    * I'm a big boy who's not offended by language I've heard plenty of times at work and play.

    * Chickenshit can be in bounds if you feel it's the best way to make a point. I'll agree to disagree whether that was the case here.

    * P---y is as purely, rawly sexist as you can get without using the C-word. Think aboiut what you're saying: "Be brave and bold - don't be a woman."

    That's not who I chose to be and you should be ashamed, frankly, to defend its use in 2009. Ask ANY female colleague, relative or neighbor if she thinks I'm a p---y to be offended.

    I tried to make this point more subtly in my first two posts, but apparently defensive blinders kept you from getting. All that's left to respect, barely, is that you cling to this anachronistic stance by name publicly.

  9. Doug Vanisky from ADDB, May 29, 2009 at 7:32 p.m.

    Meh. This article misses the point. We're all 'Masters of the House' now. Nearly anyone can create and consume content.

    People will always pay for great entertainment, analysis, and other products. Anything short of greatness will have to find other ways to monetize. In short, Ali is right.

    And yeah, the P word has no place in modern professional communications.

  10. Brad Stewart from Molecule Inc., June 4, 2009 at 9:03 a.m.

    Not to get distracted from the more salient issues in this article, but please George! "dastardly coward" or "pusillanimous" are obviously more appropriate when illustrating the dialogue of children. ???

    An international frictionless, and secure micro-payment system that hits a tipping point, as could well happen with FB's upcoming transaction system, is major news. The effects this will have on content et. al. monetization is earth shattering.

    Over 200 million people will have direct access to this currency, with very little transaction penalty. This could become the most pervasive currency in the world. Quickly.

    I applaud FB for jumping into the colloquial murky pool. Entire new economies could emerge from this long overdue act of bravado.

  11. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 13, 2009 at 4:36 p.m.

    Not so "lighthearted" commentary. Wish you were wrong, too.

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