HOW THE WEST WAS WON: ‘Information Wants To Be Free’ Replaced By ‘Information Is A Slave To Value’


THE ATLANTIC: After 15 years of fruitless experimentation, media companies are realizing that an advertising-supported model is not the way to succeed on the Web and they are, at last, seeking to get consumers to pay for their content. They are operating on the largely correct assumption that people will be more likely to pay for consumer-friendly apps via the iPad, and a multitude of competing devices due out this year, than they are to subscribe to the same old kludgy Web site they have been using freely for years. As a result, media companies will soon be pushing their best and most timely content through their apps instead of their Web sites. Meanwhile, video-content services are finding that they don’t even need to bother with the Web and the browser. Netflix, for one, is well on its way to sending movies and TV shows directly to TV sets, making their customers’ experience virtually indistinguishable from ordering up on-demand shows by remote control. It’s far from a given that this shift will generate the kinds of revenue media companies are used to: for under-30s whelped on free content, the prospect of paying hundreds or thousands of dollars yearly for print, audio, and video (on expensive new devices that require paying AT&T $30 a month) is not going to be an easy sell.


On a more conceptual level, the move from the browser model to the app model (where content is more likely to be accessed via smartly curated “stores” like iTunes, Amazon, or Netflix) signals the first real taming of the Wild Digital West. Apple’s version of the West has nice white picket fences, clapboard houses, morals police, and lots of clean, well-organized places to spend money. (The Internet, it seems, is finally safe for Rupert Murdoch.) These shifts are seemingly subtle, but they may prove profound. Google, which built its once monopolistic position by harnessing the chaos of Web search, has been forced to move aggressively to preserve its business model against this new competition: it has teamed up with the Apple-scorned Flash; is making conciliatory gestures to the content owners it once patronized; has reached a deal to purchase a mobile ad-sales platform; and is promoting its own vision of the future based on cloud computing. Phones using its open-source smart-phone operating system, Android, are outselling the iPhone. Even so, Google still needs for the Web, however it’s accessed, to remain central—because without contextual search advertising, Google ceases to matter. Smart phones in general, and the iPad more pointedly, are not driven by search. MORE

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