Content Should Be Free is Nonsense. (Yup, I Disagree with Fred Wilson)

I read an absolutely insanely good investigative piece into the foreign money flowing into Time Warner Center condos by the NY Times. I cannot get my head around how much effort must have been required into researching this piece. And then the writing and editing that followed it.  And then the design and photographs on the page.

It is what the NY Times and a handful of publications do well – probably those that could do this can be counted on one hand.

And this is difficult stuff.  And they deserve to be paid for it.

I’m not an expert on content monetization models on the web, but it’s clear given the tumult that media companies have been undergoing for a long time, clicks on ads or views of banners don’t pay the bills very well. Or you can pollute the experience and your brand with Outbrain ads for 10 tips to get a killer body. Of course, there is the Buzzfeed experiment going with native advertising but that’s still new.

This doesn’t mean that media companies are victims here and should not adapt.  It also doesn’t also mean that all content is worth paying for. Most of it blows.

But when you see a piece like the NY Times one, there is clearly a level of content quality that can ask for payment and deserves it.

Of course, we have the choice to not pay for it if it’s not for us, but if we value it especially consistently, I think we should pay for it. That means not doing the Google end-around for that content.

So today when I saw a conversation between Jason Del Rey of Re/Code and Fred Wilson, resident VC badass and unicorn hunter, about paid content and Fred’s views on it, I was perplexed.

I asked Fred if he feels the same about books, movies and music or just journalism. But if just journalism, this feels like a very arbitrary line. If all forms of digital content, it’s just as arbitrary.  And where does the line get drawn? Enterprise software? Cloud storage?  Heck, maybe Staples should give away its pencils and monetize by putting ads on them?

I think this falls into that whole information wants to be free non-sense which has become popular.

I’ve read Fred’s stuff for a long time, and I’ve learned a lot from his blog and agree with so many of his perspectives, but I’ve heard this comment on journalism and content being free from him many times, and I cannot tell if he’s just dug into a view for the sake of consistency or if he still really believes it. But it’s unfortunate given his influence especially as it feels like a simple and somewhat lazy argument.  I think him saying there is a better model than ads would probably get entrepreneurs working on real solutions to this.

Irrespective, creators like those who wrote the amazing NY Times piece deserve to be paid. Phenomenal.

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