How to subscribe for better content

Readers Want ‘Better’ Digital Content Before They’ll Cough Up

By Marion Maneker
Posted Tuesday, February 23, 2010 – 2:40pm

The Nielsen company conducted a survey of 27,000 consumers in 52 countries—now that’s a sample!—to find out more about readers’ attitudes toward paid content. What they discovered, and released last week, is that readers are not hostile to paying for content online. They just want better content before they’re willing to pay for it.

Nielsen doesn’t help us much by not defining “better.” Do they mean more feature rich content? Better writing? Loftier ideas? Or just more nearly naked girls packaged in a variety of video and photographic wrappers?

Ok. That’s not entirely fair. Nielsen tells us that the respondents don’t want to pay for content from people “just like them.” They want stuff that’s professionally produced and not a commodity. (Hey, what isn’t a commodity these days?) Here are just three of the results:

* At the same time, 71% of global consumers say online content of any kind will have to be considerably better than what is currently free before they will pay for it.

* As a group, they are ambivalent about whether the quality of online content would suffer if companies could not charge for it—34% think so while 30% do not; and the remaining 36% have no firm opinion.

* But they are far more united (62%) in their conviction that once they purchase content, it should be theirs to copy or share with whomever they want.

That last one is recurring theme. It now seems clear that the emerging rules of digital engagement—I create and give you access only to paying customers—is running headlong into the Mash-Up principle.

When content was imprisoned in its distribution vehicle, you could allow the buyer some secondary right of repurposement. Those are big words for being able to sell your books second-hand—even though you don’t really own the rights to them because you can’t take the words and republish them yourself—or cut up magazines to make cool collages or, even, works of art.

It would appear that repurposing is genetically encoded into human beings. Now that content is distributed digitally, that impulse to recombine work from a variety of sources comes into conflict with the creator’s intellectual property rights. At some point, something’s going to have to give here.

* Marion Maneker is a regular contributor to The Big Money.

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