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Would You Pay To Click This Link?

That's what The New York Times wants to know. And, presumably, everyone else making content on the internet. Walter Issacson, a venerable...


That's what The New York Times wants to know. And, presumably, everyone else making content on the internet.Walter Issacson, a venerable godfather of internet content, just wrote a long think piece in Time about how we've made a mistake in our attitudes that information needs to be free. Because you can shout that to the rooftops all you want, but information also needs to be paid for. Newspaper articles don't just write themselves. I've been trying, unsuccessfully, to find some sort of accounting of how many links on the internet link back to the Times, or, more generally, to any major newspaper or news service. It must be an incredibly large percent, if not a majority.But what we ingrates on the internet don't understand is that-with your current attitude-soon we wont have any links to click on. Everything will just be pictures of cute cats or YouTube videos of young girls talking about themselves. And that will probably be fine for a while, but then you might want to know something about the stimulus bill, or your corrupt senator who might be having sex with 13-year-olds, or read a movie review by someone who can write in complete sentences. And then we'll feel really sad, because we will have destroyed the very thing we want.So, in the next year, as things get really bad for newspapers everywhere, we will have to make a choice. Are we willing to pay for this service? Because, the big secret that no one wants to think about is that internet advertising is not going to be the savior of information and reporting, because it simply does not pay enough money. Getting the news we want (and clearly crave, since it forms the backbone of the internet) costs a lot of money. It's probably less than The New York Times thinks, but it's much more than banner ads can possibly support-and much more than we lay people can probably understand.The problem began when the internet was very young. Somehow, people became convinced that things on the internet had to be, by default, free. And now it's a mantra that we all seem swear by. If the Times and many other newspapers had decided, at the beginning, to not be free, then things on the internet would not be free, and that would be the way things were. They were inventing the very rules that would define a new world that they did not understand, and they invented them badly, and now they are struggling to operate in a world stacked against them. They should not be punished for this by being forced out of business.This attitude, that we should have things for free for the simple reason that they are free is in many ways similar to the collective financial thinking that got us into this mess in the first place. "I will take this extra line of credit because it is there, regardless of the consequences," or "I will buy this home I cannot pay for, regardless of the consequences." People who make things we enjoy consuming need to get paid. And we shouldn't try to shirk that responsibility. We should pay them to continue to make the things we love. It's pretty simple.So, I'm calling upon everyone to change our attitudes. Subscribe to magazines. Buy songs on iTunes (even better, go buy albums). When a website you like asks for money, give them some. And when, in the next year, a newspaper does something drastic like asking you to pay five cents to read a story, just do it. If you have your doubts, try this experiment: Pick up a copy of The New York Times when you can. It costs $1.50. Think of every New York Times story you've been directed to via link over the last week. Divide $1.50 by that number. Was it worth it?
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