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News Editor

Never saying never

Jul 07, 20034 mins
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A bunch of Network World Fusion readers apparently have never heard the old adage about never saying never.

The evidence can be seen in an online poll conducted throughout June that asked: “Have you ever paid for content on the Web?”

Of the 3,768 individuals who considered five possible replies, a resounding 57% chose: “Never, nor will I.”

Perhaps a number of these readers are well along in their years or hopelessly set in their ways, but the rest – presumably the vast majority – might want to consider a longer view of the matter: After all, never could be an extremely long time. And who knows what might pop up on the Web tomorrow that would have even these never-never types fumbling for their credit cards.

Of course, the other real possibility is that these folks said what they meant and meant what they said, which cannot be good news for online content creators who have dreams of turning a buck or two . . . not to mention bills to pay.

Before we go much further, it’s worth noting that Buzz has long been dismissive of online polls for the obvious reason that a self-selected sample of respondents discounts any claim to scientific validity. However, I’m told this particular poll was among the more popular ever conducted on Fusion, so let’s suspend disbelief and peer a bit deeper into the results.

Ten percent of respondents said they currently pay for content online. This number struck me as surprisingly high, even accounting for the fact that the Network World audience is more affluent, better educated and more active online than the general populace. (Of course, we have no way of knowing what portion of that 10% is patronizing purveyors of the Internet’s most popular content: pornography.)

Another 8% said they have bought reports online, leading me to wonder why I haven’t written any reports as of late.

Five percent of respondents said they would consider coughing up cash for online content if the content came devoid of advertising. This is not a ringing endorsement of the ad-free model but shouldn’t come as a surprise, because we all are accustomed to advertising and most accept it as a reasonable price to pay.

The fifth and final option – “I would consider paying if I could not get the content anywhere else” – garnered the second-highest vote total at 20%.

This was the safe choice among the five, what with its cushy fudge words “consider” and “if.”

But it also got to the crux of the problem for online content providers: There’s too much content out there, too much of it looks the same, and almost all of it is free.

Buzz is with that 10% who currently pay for online content (and, no, it’s not porn). Sports and politics are two of my favorite pastimes, and they account for a good deal of my limited pleasure reading.

I’ll check out three or four times a week, but have resisted all of that site’s pleadings to pony up for “premium content.” I’ve been tempted, yes, but not enough to hand over the dough.

The reason is free sports news and opinion couldn’t possibly be in more abundant supply.

Politics is another matter. At a time when mainstream media outlets – TV and radio, in particular – are increasingly dominated by conservative bombast, there are few places a knee-jerk liberal can get his fix . . . even online. Salon is one such place, and while much of its content is free, the premium stuff – the forbidden fruit – kept calling for my credit card number until I could stand it no longer.

Basic economics: supply and demand.

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