Will short content always be free?

Will short content always be free?
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In Bill Wasik’s talk about modern media, he claims shorter content will always be free.  In the talk, the content he was referring to was written content.  Longer content, such as e-books delivered via Amazon’s Kindle, are becoming more popular, even though you have to pay for them.  Short content, however, has largely become free and easily available through newspapers that have moved online.  Is Wasik right?  Will short content really always be free?

I’m not convinced the length of the content matters when it comes to people’s willingness to pay.  I think what is most important is what people are used to paying for.  The “short content” Wasik refers to in his talk consists primarily of newspapers.  Over the past few years, internet users have become used to newspaper content being free online.  Because of how people share and comment on content, there is actually a lot of value to this model.

When it comes to books, however, a culture of free online has not evolved.  I haven’t done enough research to say for sure why this hasn’t happened, but I can make a few guesses.  Books have always been seen as an activity you do instead of going online.  I often hear my friends talk about how they really value holding the physical book in their hands while reading.  The internet is primarily a low-attention span environment while books require a long attention-span.  Moreoever, there isn’t as much value in hyperlinking a novel as there is in linking a short news story or blog post.  For these reasons, and more I’m sure, have stopped a culture of free to reach the book industry.

Since people are used to paying for books, I think they will be willing to pay for books as they move to digital.  Because newspapers are subsidized by advertisements and can still make money by providing content for free, I believe users won’t be as willing to pay for their “short” content.  In my mind, this has nothing to do with the length of the content, but rather the culture behind the content.  If creaters of short content wish to make money directly off of their work, they are going to need to foster a culture that is used to paying for their content.  This will require some creativity and force short content creaters to change the way they do things.

The current short content creaters may struggle to make the transition, but I’m confident a new generation will figure it out.  When it comes to money and markets, there are always people figuring out how to monetize new paradigms.  Today is no different.

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