I don't know whether others have noticed the big shift that is going on in the world right now. I've been waiting for this to happen for years, more with dread than anticipation. Our generation -- at least those of us who made a decision to try to keep up with technological change -- has experienced an incredible revolution since the Seventies. From vacuum tubes to microchips, from typewriters to word processors, and then to PC's. Finally, the Internet developed. I can still remember my first online ventures here in Germany with BTX (Bildschirmtext), a cousin of France's Minitel. Those were frustrating times as well: slow connections, limited access to websites, frequent crashes and blue screens. I will never forget the lost work day in 1997 that I spent with my Microsoft-certified computer guy, fortunately a friend who didn't charge me for his time, trying to install a mouse on my new computer. A mouse! Companies were rushing to get their hardware and software out on the market to avoid being crushed by the competition. Staring in the mid-Nineties, however, the wonderful possibilities of the Internet opened up. What an incredible empowerment of the individual. From my desktop perch, I could access information from around the world, chat with strangers who shared my interests, bridge continents in real time -- and, getting to the topic of this post, for the most part the information was free. All you had to do was pay the monthly telecom fees. At first, the telecom fees were hefty, but soon flat rates took over. We had entered the land of milk and honey.
For me, 2013 marks the year that a critical mass of information providers has begun trying to charge for access to their content. They are still taking baby steps. With just a bit of sophistication, a reader can delete the meter cookies, if one is so inclined. The business model of free access paid for by advertizing clicks has not worked for businesses that employ people to provide content. I'm already starting to calculate how much I am willing to pay each year to perform my morning surf. My routine morning surf established itself after over a decade of refinement (and God knows how many lost days following one link to another to another until I became addicted). I need to visit about 15 to 20 sites a day to feel like I am on top of things. Many of those sites would like to charge me between $ 35 and $ 200 a year to access content. That is not going to happen. I am willing to consider $ 10 to $ 20 a site for annual access. I doubt that is going to suffice, but let's wait and see. I will look at alternative free sites before agreeing to pay significant amounts for front-line journalism that often parrots other sources. And, of course, there is Wikipedia. Just so you don't think I'm a cheapskate, I donated about $ 25 to Wikipedia last year.
My business idea for the day is to set up an online publisher's clearinghouse to offer discount packaged subscriptions to multiple sites. E.g., for $ 100 a year you can access five to ten of your favorite sites. Someone will have to do a lot of legwork to get content providers to agree to bundle their product, but I bet it would make economic sense if the clearinghouse can help increase the subscription base. Note to anyone who makes a fortune off this idea: send me an e-mail for bank wiring instructions for my commission. My children will be grateful.