The free Internet is looking somewhat frayed at the edges with three prominent web sites in recent days announcing their intention to charge for access to content or services.
FT.com, Europe's biggest business news website, today said it would charge 'under £100' a year for a soon-to-be closed area of the site. But what's up for subscription? This has yet to be determined, but archived news stories look an obvious bet.
The Wall Street Journal shows that paid-for big financial news sites can attract serious subscription revenues. However, the WSJ.com charges just $59 a year (or did last time we looked), and readers of the paper get a hefty discount. The FT will have to tread carefully, to avoid scaring away too many readers and harming advertising revenues.
Slashdot has an interesting pay-as-you-go for-no-ads model. Introduced at the same time as more obtrusive Interactive Advertising Bureau-standard ad sizes (most notably, those big boxes you get inside CNET articles), the ad-free version costs $5 for 1,000 page views.
Eighty-two per cent of readers would end up paying less than $20 a year for this option. Bargain, we think. Heavier users - around 15 per cent - would end up paying around $5 a month - and there should be some uptake here. Here is a chance for Slashdot's huge fanbase to demonstrate, beyond buying the T-shirt, their affinity with the site. The hardest of the hardcore - the top 3 per cent who provide half the comments - could end up paying $5 a month, if they accept ads on the comments section.
Slashdot is collecting subs by PayPal, realistically the only viable non credit card micro-billing payment method for a mass-market American audience to date. Yes we know it sucks, yes we know it's a pain for non-Americans etc. etc., and yes we know there are other US-based PayPal competitors - but they lack scale. Slashdot says it is investigating non PayPal options.
Geocities, the community home page site owned by Yahoo!, last week announced its intention to charge $4.95 a month, plus set-up fee for FTP access. Users can continue to use the web-based file upload utility gratis, but this can be slow, reader Helen Cain points out.
Geocities is to start charging from April 2, and it encourages users who want to continue using FTP for upload to upgrade to a premium package. Premium users are unaffected by the move.
The emails are piling in from Avantgo subscribers who used to access The Register from their PDAs(heroically, in our view, as we have never built a PDA version) but can't anymore. They can't read The Register using Avantgo, because the content aggregator is "stamping out abuse" by commercial sites through the simple expedient of barring access to abusers from reader custom channels.
Avantgo is being disengenuous. The Register, for example, never asked readers to include us as one of their custom channels. And we have no intention of being bounced by Avantgo into paying thousands of dollars a year just to that we can feature on their official channel list.
We do have an alternative front page for PDAs, skunked up by our former colleague Tony Smith. However, the front page is a far as it goes - click on the story and you are back in Fat RegLand.
If and when we do launch a proper PDA/WAP version we will almost certainly charge for this additional service. But the price will be less than if we were paying the Avantgo tax.
That's the thing with publishing - someone, somewhere has to pay: it could be the advertiser, or the reader, or - more rarely these days - the investor. Or a combination of all three. As we have stated before: No Wedge = No Reg. ®