"Master of the House"
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?
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?