Is content making a come-back?

It seems that for the past few years we’ve seen a shift away from a focus on good quality content. Anyone and everyone can publish whatever they like without peer review, censorship or any regard as to whether anyone else is likely to pay good money to view it. I have no problem with that. If, as Jimmy Wales pointed out in his keynote, there is a whole community that finds value in a wiki devoted to the Muppets, and is happy to produce 15,000 articles devoted to the subject, who am I to criticise. But, will anyone part with any hard-earned cash to look at it?

Much of this conference is devoted to looking at how Web 2.0 is changing not only the delivery, but also who controls what is made available. A few sessions are also looking into whether any of it is financially sustainable.

A conference session titled ‘New Business Models: Show Me The Money’ may have promised rather too much in these early days, but there were some signs that not all content is just for giving away.

Macmillan English Campus is a site that specialises in English language teaching resources. A few years ago Macmillan developed a marketing website that gave free advice, tips and resources for English language teachers. It was successful enough that users demanded more content and more frequent updates. Among its most popular feaures was a forum that allowed teachers to exchange ideas and advice.

Macmillan’s Emma Shercliff described how onestopenglish.com was developed out of this website. Premium content, better search facilities and weekly updates made it a service that Macmillan decided to offer for an annual subscription fee of £30 or $50. While charging for a service that was previously free may seem brave these days, some 7,000 individual subscribers were sufficiently happy to pay within its first year. In fact, those most likely to pay were those with no previous experience of the free service.

Perhaps we are starting to leave behind the generation that believes everything on the net should be free. Is the generation, that has grown up with that attitude as the prevailling one, finally discovering for itself that valuable information is worth paying for?

Jim Ashling

Columnist, Information Today

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