The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Friday, March 28, 2003

Well, just a day after ruminating about how good a splintered AOL Time Warner would be, the company took a step in something of the opposite direction. In a move that's been rumored for months, the company will be pulling all the free content off its magazine sites, forcing online readers to pay for them in some way, shape or form (either by becoming an AOL subscriber, subscribing to that particular magazine's site, or buying single copies of said magazine).

People and Entertainment Weekly will be the first ones to be pulled; eventually all their pubs will follow, I'm guessing. I imagine this won't extend to CNN and other broadcast properties, which in theory aren't as cannibalized by Web content.

Another chapter in the end of free, I suppose. It'll affect me most in that I won't be able to constantly check Sports Illustrated's handy sports transactions page throughout the day. Oh well. I'll survive... maybe.

Of course, if such a huge company is successful, the domino effect will extend to the rest of the Web, and pretty soon quality free content will be hard to dig up. Even now, most professional sites (especially newspapers and magazines) restrictively archive their stuff and charge for access to it, because it's a pretty sure revenue source. Unfortunately, it makes the permanence of blogs like mine pretty difficult.

I'm as much of a freeloader as anyone, and it'll be a drag not having free access to AOLTW's vast array of media holdings. But really, I was fully aware that the free lunch wasn't going to last forever. Eventually, companies have to figure out a way to pay for that content, and relying on comment boards and amateur bloggers ain't gonna cut it. You pay to play. I'm not going to subscribe to AOL just to get my peek at the latest People, but I'm not against a pay-as-you-go system--like, if I buy the latest issue of GQ off the newsstand, I then get an access code for the pay-only site that works only for that month. I got no problem with that. (I know GQ isn't an AOLTW title, but like I said, I'm sure the rest of the publishing world will follow suit eventually.)