As many will now know, later this month The Times will no longer allow free access of its on line content. I do not wish to discuss the pros and cons of this from the point of view of The Times, but the effect of this decision.
Even if other newspapers follow the lead of The Times and start charging for content, I would guess that basic and, in some cases, good news services will remain free to access on line. As an example, given how it is funded, I cannot foresee the BBC charging for the on line news content that it provides.
Rather than being concerned with how many Internet users will subscribe to The Times, I am concerned with how many will not, and this is the vast majority of Internet users. Before we even begin, The Times is read by a small proportion of the United Kingdom population and the Internet is global. I would guess, to take two countries as examples, the amount of subscriptions from Internet users in America or Iran will be so tiny that they can be discounted.
In the world of blogging and comments to blogs, as well as general interest and for settling arguments, for many people, if something does not appear for free on the Internet, it might as well not exist.
Oliver Kamm has commented that his blog at The Times will also be behind the pay wall. The comments section to his post on the matter is full of those who have said that this decision means that they will no longer read his blog, and these comments include those made by many long term readers. His blog will also not be read by the majority of users of the Internet around the world, even for those using Google to search for information. If they have to pay, they will not bother and try and read something else.
The disappearance of his blog from free access does not disappoint everyone. In the comments section of his post, one contributor, using the name “Indecent Left,” who Oliver tells us is one of his political opponents at Media Lens, has made the following comment:
The pay wall will ensure that only the dumbest of readers will be able to see your articles or blog postings. It is heartening that you will be able to continue to cater to this demographic while leaving the rest of the world unmolested.
No doubt Oliver will continue writing his blog, and the next time Noam Chomsky writes something silly, he will expose him. But this will not assist an average Internet user around the world confronted with a Chomsky argument in an on line debate. For them, the day that The Times starts charging for content will be the day that Oliver Kamm ceases to exist.