Will Users Pay for Previously “Free” Content?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

One of the key issues is whether the cost of licensing content is ultimately too expensive for individuals who want to publish digitally.

By Edward Nawotka


As discussed in today’s feature story, IFRRO and its constituent organizations around the world — including the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) in the United States — are working to establish a global framework that will allow consumers to pay licenses for the secondary use of digital and other material — much of it that has previously been used for free. IFRRO estimates the annual loss to publishers at some €300 million per year. The money being recouped will come from licensing work that is currently being taken for free and being utilized in a myriad of ways, from postings in internal networks to slides used in PowerPoint presentations and beyond. But, if the framework is in place, will people pay?

As argued here before by CCC’s CEO Tracey Armstrong, in “All Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free” — as “more and more people become stakeholders in the process, they begin to create their own value.” She cites China is an example: It’s widely known that Chinese companies disregard for intellectual property and routinely pirate books, DVDs, etc…and it’s something that has been tolerated by the government for a long time. “But,” says Armstrong, “economies start to respect intellectual property when, within that economy, there is enough of their own intellectual property that wants to be protected. That’s something we’re starting to see in China, where they are making advances in science and other areas and want to realize value from that and protect it. I’m going to draw an analogy from that and say ‘evolution can happen.’”

On the individual level, more content creators are finding success publishing online and making money from their endeavors. Accordingly, the more individuals benefit from the process of publishing, the more likely they are to pay for proper licensing, or so the argument goes.

One of the issues raised is whether the cost of licensing content is ultimately too expensive for individuals who want to publish digitally. Armstrong believes there is something out there for everyone, from affordable all-you-can-use buffet buckets of content to a-la-carte options. What’s more, she states that as time marches on, and content proliferates, there will be even more options affordable to most. That said, licensing is still expensive to many working in a digital format. Some have suggested that content licenses should be less expensive for digital distribution.

What do you think? The answer likely depends on where you sit in the value chain.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.