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Britannica going more towards free

Towards free, not completely free. This is a fascinating example of old-school vs new school (Wikipedia and Google – I mean Google search, not the Knol thing). Britannica is opening up its content to “online publishers”, including qualifying bloggers – low traffic is OK, but infrequent posting is not. The idea is to encourage these users to post Britannica links on their sites. Such links will bypass the paywall, enabling non-subscribers to read articles that would otherwise require subscription.

We can debate the quality of Britannica’s more scholarly articles versus Wikipedia’s living encapsulation of crowd wisdom. The real question is this: what is Britannica’s business model when something that many people will feel is “good enough” is available for nothing?

Here’s what the FAQ says:

Won’t you lose money giving away all those subscriptions?

We don’t think so. On the contrary, with many Web publishers using our products and sharing them with our readers, we expect to see a lot more people subscribing.

On the other hand, might not existing subscribers feel that the value of their subscriptions is diminished by the giveaway?

I suspect this is an attempt to rebuild its brand and experiment with different business models, such as advertising.

Prediction: in time, Wikipedia will include more attributed and locked content, while Britannica will add user comments, ratings, and even entirely user-generated articles (marked as such, of course). In other words, they will converge. The winner will be the site with the most traffic. If I’m right, Britannica’s new initiative is right, but very late in the day.

As an aside, I thought this part of the FAQ was not very Britannica-like:

I blog regularly, but I don’t have much traffic. Will that disqualify me?

Nope. You need Britannica more than anybody. Start reading it, and your posts will burn with brilliant, scintillating insights; link to Britannica articles, and readers will be eternally grateful. Your traffic will soar.

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