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Should All Information Be Free?

January 27th, 2006 by Bob Bly

There?s a growing movement among some folks to make all information in the world available to everyone on the planet at no charge.

But if information is free to consumers, that means the salaries of the subject matter experts, writers, and editors whose job it is to produce content must all be paid by advertising, rather than subscription and product sales. One can argue that all content producers would be then influenced by advertisers, who would hold their financial fate in their hands.

Content producers who produce objective, unbiased reporting because they accept no advertising, like traditional subscription newsletter publishers, cannot survive if they must give away everything they produce for free.

Consumers, by the way, don?t buy into this ?all information is free? crap: according to an article in BtoB (1/16/05, p. 10), the information industry will generate revenues of $306 billion in 2006.

That?s an increase of 8% over 2005 sales — an indicator that the growing presence of the Internet is stimulating rather than retarding the sale of paid content.


This entry was posted on Friday, January 27th, 2006 at 10:35 am and is filed under General, Writing and the Internet. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

49 responses about “Should All Information Be Free?”

  1. Michael Cage said:

    If someone is willing to spends days in a library, on the internet or tracking down experts in order to get their questions answered, they can. The information is out there.

    I’d argue that data and information (using Ackoff’s knowledge management terms) are already largely free. It’s the filtering, shaping and presentation of information/knowledge/understanding/wisdom that commands a premium nowadays. This brings us to premium pricing by virtue of the time savings associated with adopting a fully-formed system … reducing overwhelm at parsing competing statements and worldviews … the experience the presentation of “info” creates … and at least a dozen other keys.

    Michael Cage

  2. Mordechai (Morty) Schiller said:


    There’s no simple “digital” yes/no answer. Part of the problem goes back to the halcyon years of the early Arpanet and Internet: Many of the people involved were idealists who saw the Internet as the ultimate “power to the people.” It was the pamphleteer’s dream come true.

    Then the media and corporate America discovered the Net. What was originally a means of connecting scientists, became a new commercial medium.

    That doesn’t change the fact that writers and others who create “content” have a right to be paid for their work. Otherwise, to paraphrase Samuel Johnson, only blockheads will continue writing. Or people shilling for the highest bidding advertisers!

    Still, if you’ve been wired for long, you’ve gotten used to vast libraries of information available for free. And anyone who has ever tried to convert a controlled circulation magazine or newsletter to paid subscriptions… or anyone who has tried to “monetize” a blog… can tell you that once people get something for free, it’s hard to convince them to pay for it!

    So what do you do? Hey, you wrote the book on direct marketing (or a bunch of them, anyway). The answer is TEST!

    Do your own free articles on you website help sell your books and your services?

    Is the Wall St. Journal online making money?

    Whatever works for you!

  3. Justin Hitt said:

    All information is free if you are willing to trade enough time to discover it! That time could be experience, trial & error, or just days of searching the Internet.

    Yes, advertisers will influence the direction of content, if even by how much they are willing to pay for certain channels. Unsuspecting users are willing to live with that because they don’t know any better.

    Content producers (writers, artists, …) will never be paid well for what they do if they don’t learn how to turn “information” into tools to save readers time, convey expertise, or create value.

    Much of the “Free” information on the Internet is so watered down it costs hours to find something useful … and as long as that is the case, my paid membership sites will thrive because I save my audience time while creating value.

    Of course, time is more valuable than money. You can always make more money, you can never make more time. So the question may be, “What does free information really cost?”


    Justin Hitt
    Turning Relationships into Profits Guaranteed

  4. Patrick Huey said:

    While I feel empathy among the purists that all information should be free, the reality is that all information comes at a price (even free information). It’s certainly possible to get valuable information for free instead of paying hundreds or thousands of dollars like some people or companies have done, but for most people, they spend hours, days or even weeks to gather that free information. So while they may have saved a few bucks, they lost precious time that could have been better spent building a business, meeting with customers, having quality time with family, etc.

    In a way, information on the internet is like water. Water is all around us and we can get “free” water just by turning on the tap; yet the bottled water industry has made billions of dollars by marketing cleaner or more pure water than they can get from the tap. Don’t forget that people will pay a premium for convenience, whether it’s food, water, cleaning services or even online information.

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  11. Nee said:

    Hi! Great points made up above! I am writing a debate about this at the moment for a competition and I have to agree with what most have you said (except for the spam comments). Info. is never even free on the internet anyway because not does it take time to acquire it, it also costs money for internet conection and even more on dial up. No matter where we go people will rip us off for the resources we use.

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  13. Mary Brace said:

    “Information is power.”

    It was such a nice dream, the idea that freely shared information would spread democracy from the internet, to the offline world.

    The horrible reality in front of me is that people who spent years, decades even, who followed “calling” careers – particularly writers, photographers, and other highly skilled people – who made mediocre wages doing something they are passionate about, are watching their means of self-support torn out from under them thanks to those engineers who made it possible for people who’d spend $1500 on a camera, but won’t plunk down another $100-$400 for workshops, to post a question like, “EXIF data?”

  14. izrada web sajtova said:

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  15. ProCopywritingTactics said:

    I think all information has a price. You can willing to pay the price in terms of time and effort to search all over the net to find it. (And not everything you find online is true or even accurate!)

    Or you could save oodles of time and shell out some cash and buy an information product that can teach you more about the subject.

    The choice is up to the individual.

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