Expect the ecosystem of the Web to start feeling a little different once the summer slips away. Publishers, stung by an economic downturn and ongoing disappointment with online ad revenues, will begin charging for at least some of their Web content. Eager to help make this happen are two proposed e-commerce systems, Journalism Online and ViewPass, which are developing technologies to enable publishers to sell their wares. Gordon Crovitz, a co-founder of Journalism Online, says “we expect a very large number of news sites will have some elements of paid content beginning in the fall.” Crovitz, a former Wall Street Journal publisher, says that a number of companies have already signed on with his service. He won’t identify them, but one executive familiar with the situation says some may be announced by early July.
A key point, one that is often overlooked when people react to the prospect of such changes, is that hardly anyone has serious plans to wall off the entirety of their free sites. The preferred terms du jour describe “premium” offerings, or even, forgive them, “freemium,” given the blend of free and paid. The dream dancing through some executives’ heads involves a hybrid model: maintaining much or all existing free traffic while charging some subscribers fees for certain offerings, then using data from these users’ browsing habits to help sell ultra-targeted—and thus higher-priced—advertising.
Too good to be true? Quite possibly.