Wednesday, March 23, 2011

paywalls rising

In my previous post, I mention the emergence of the New York Times paywall and provide an example of an e book sold through Amazon Kindle Editions, whose content is really not source-able through library channels. Both of these examples really point to highly current content marketed directly to consumers.

Libraries, particularly academic libraries, were never really geared towards providing information for current consumption as opposed to research. In the print world, if you wanted the Times or the Chronicle of Higher Ed at your home or office, you really had to subscribe yourself. And even if you wanted to get your hands on a popular current book, there were some good odds that the library might not have enough copies.

Could it be that in this new world where publishers are trying to extract revenues from current content ("information flows"), the library's is left to offering access to backfiles ("information stocks"). We know from John Seely Brown et al that information flows are where the action is. But perhaps in an information landscape balkanized by paywalls, broad and deep access to information stocks will valuable.

I was reading through comments on an Inside Higher Ed blogpost regarding the NYTimes paywall and was struck by how many people voiced support for the Times' move. There is a sentiment that as a society we need to be ready to open our wallets for high quality journalism. I find it comforting that the Times is taking a leadership role here. I'm not sure if they have their price level at exactly the right place on the demand curve but I agree with the you-get-what-you-pay-for principle of the whole thing.

Just maybe there is a growing recognition that high quality information costs money, money that is not always optimally provided by advertisers. This recognition could be a good thing for the broader information industry, including libraries.

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