Will shorter content always be free?

4 08 2009

In a Big Think talk, Harper’s Magazine Senior Editor Bill Wasik discusses modern media and suggests that shorter content will always be free.

Wasik makes an interesting argument that the Kindle is the early seed of one possible business model. “One of the things I love about the Kindle is the fact that it separates the act of choosing the information from the act of consuming it and that I think is more valuable than a lot of people think,” Wasik says. Wasik suggests that part of the reason people don’t pay for content online is because they don’t want to stop their online activity to enter their payment info. With the Kindle, people don’t have to stop. This concept makes me think about my iPhone. I quickly spend money on iPhone apps because all requires is my iTunes password. Having to stop and pay for something online does deter people, but I don’t think it’s one of the main reasons that people won’t pay for content. People won’t pay for news content because they’re hesitant to pay for something that they have always thought of as free.

Although Wasik contends that shorter content will inherently be free, he points out that you might be able to convince people to pay for longer content. I agree. I think as media consumers we can’t imagine paying for a 250-word breaking news brief about health care reform. But we might – and I emphasize, might – pay for a 5,000-word investigative report looking at America’s health care system and the various plans for reform.

I haven’t yet viewed the Kindle as much of a revolutionary device. It doesn’t seem all that interactive or appealing to me, but I understand Wasik’s point about it having potential for long-form journalism. People typically don’t read long, in-depth content on the Web. But given the ability to download that story and read it on a comfortable electronic device while lying in your hammock, long-form content might be more appealing and easy to read. As a journalist who dreams of doing investigative and magazine-style work, I’m hopeful that Wasik’s view of the Kindle is correct.




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