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Front Page » December 21, 2010 » Opinion » The Internet is Not Free
Published 1,371 days ago

The Internet is Not Free


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By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

A long time ago I spread holiday cheer by working at a soup kitchen in Salt Lake on Thanksgiving, helping those who had little to eat. What I found was a lot of people who complained about the food they were being fed and about the amount.

Being young and naive it was an eye opener. It was at that point that I realized that people who get things for free often don't appreciate them.

People often talk about the entitlement culture we have developed in our society. We have come to believe that certain things should be a given. Well in some cases, I think people are right.

Let's take the Internet. There are a lot of people who believe the Internet should be free. I don't disagree. The use of it should be free. But to believe that companies should supply the service to provide it for free or that all content on it should be free, is another matter.

The Internet is somewhat like AM or FM radio in this way. We can buy a receiver to get AM or FM and we can listen to the static on those bands for free. But when we listen to a broadcast, in one way or another we pay for it. With public radio our tax dollars and donations support it. With commercial radio we pay for it by having commercials run on it rather than listening to the music or the talk we want all the time without interruption.

The Internet is similar. There is a lot of static out there but instead of being white noise it takes the form of biased news coverage, pure opinion cloaking itself as news and many other interesting things. That's the point; much of it is interesting, but unreliable.

The web has been a great tool for almost everyone, but like all things it is how you use it. As with a firearm, it can be valuable and positive or it can be used to shoot yourself in your foot.

As a newspaper publisher, I often read the "news" about the demise of newspapers. Large papers have suffered in circulation almost universally. Small community papers have found varying circumstances; some have gained since the advent of the web, others have lost.

Presently we offer the Emery County Progress in three different forms. You can buy the paper itself in subscription form, from dealers or from machines. Secondly, you can use our digital paper boy and get PDFs in full color for a fee. Third you can view some of our newspaper on our Website at ecprogress.com.

The third option is the one that is becoming more and more popular. It's easy to use and it's instant. On the other hand it does have its drawbacks. The main one is that not everything that appears in the newspaper appears on the Website. There is no nefarious reason for this. It is instead a matter of financial support. Our newspaper in paper form and delivered by the digital paper boy makes money. The Website, despite advertising on the site, does not.

I have had a lot of people complain about our "free" Website because we don't put everything on it. They want more or they want it all. But the fact is that without the paper product backing the Website, the Website could not exist in the economic circumstances before us today. In fact very few newspapers have been able to monetize their Websites to the point where they are self supporting.

But then the question arises about other kinds of sites that seem to do just fine passing along information while not having a paper product. Why can't we do that?

When you look at many web sites that provide news, most are attached to some other kind of business and/or they are what we call aggragators. In other words, these sites take news from other sites and put it in as their content. It's as if you owned an apple orchard and did all the work to keep it alive, watered, and pruned and then someone else comes along and takes some of your apples to sell at the same market you do. The difference is that you did the work to supply and pay for the apples and they didn't.

Not all aggragators are bad, but many steal to get at least some of their content from others. In the newspaper business someone has to pay the overhead of collecting news and providing stories that people will read. And there is also a lot of background costs that those not in the business never see.

So if you think getting newspaper information for free is always a good thing, then you must also believe that if you owned a company that manufactured a product, it would be OK for me to take half of your profits from that project. Or if you work for someone, somewhere, it would be OK for me to abscond with part of your paycheck.

Website service falls under the same old rules that every other business in our society has to follow. It either needs to make money or get money from another source to keep it running.

Nothing is really free. It's that simple.

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December 21, 2010
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