Are Free Content and Free Software Their Own Worst Enemies?
Until a few years ago I'd never thought about online articles, videos and other forms of Internet media as "content." Now that has become a part of my everyday vocabulary. The publishing industry as a whole is struggling now with how to confront the "content" question. Primarily, how can quality "content" be provided profitiably? The trouble is that advertising alone doesn't compensate for the lost revenue from subscriptions (news can be seen freely and immediately online), classified ads (most goods and services can be advertized for free through Craigslist) and print ads (online ads are generally less expensive and therefore less profitable than their print counterparts). By offering most news for "free" online, newspapers have doomed themselves. Or, so it seems so far.
The difficulty of all this is that with less revenue, periodical publishers have to make staff reductions. Fewer people often translates into lower quality, especially when reporters become scarce. If quality diminishes, so will readership. Companies want to place their ads where they'll be seen, not with a website that's losing traffic and traction. It is a dismal, downward spiral.
Free, open source software is a good idea. By making programs and their source code freely available, everyone benefits from both the product and from improvements and/or modifications made to the software by the larger community. It's good, for example, that Linux exists and that so much open source software is available that multile distributions of Linux are in circulation for free. Thus far no one other than Red Hat seems to have worked out a way to make open source software profitable, and even there it isn't a direct profit from the product itself, but from service/support surrounding the product.
Free content and free software make my life better, but I'm not sure how long they'll be able to stick around in their present forms. Presumably free software will be continue to be developed so long as there are geeks with an itch to solve a problem, but what about "content"? Bloggers certainly can't fill in the gap left by the closing of news agencies on foreign soil or match the quality (at times dubious, I know) of professionally-made newspapers and magazines.