Is the era of free Internet content coming to a close?

Published: Thursday, July 25 2013 12:53 p.m. MDT

Traditionally free media services such as Youtube are experimenting with paid-for content. Other companies such as iTunes have successfully worn down the culture of free content on the Internet, paving the way for other media outlets to charge money instead of relying on ad revenue.

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With the launch of Napster in 1999, the Internet became known as a place where users could benefit freely from content they were accustomed to paying for— namely music, movies and the news.

However, this may not be the case for much longer.

Case in point: Last month, the Washington Post implemented what Washington Post media CEO Katharine Bouchage Weymouth called a “metered subscription model,” which leaves only two of the country’s five largest newspapers — the Los Angeles Times and USA Today — free to online readers.

While not everyone believes that the future of information on the Internet is behind paywalls, writers such as Buzzfeed’s Charlie Warzel think the time has come to eulogize the free-roam Internet of yesteryear.

“In the 12 years since courts shut down Napster, the Internet has taken its hatchet to every other branch of the media industry,” Warzel wrote last week. Once the emergence of free content began “pruning ad dollars, jobs and shaving away bottom lines,” media companies began to fight back.

“The untamed and lawless expanses of web content are quickly being replaced by paywalls and monthly fees,” he continued, “and, surprisingly, we don’t really seem to mind all that much. Most of us don’t even seem to notice.”

The crucial first step in Warzel’s timeline of morphing Internet attitudes was the success of Apple’s iTunes music store. The simple, attractive interface and enticingly priced songs (99 cents) quickly and effectively replaced the consumer’s hunger for free entertainment with a thirst for secure and easy-to-get content.

“While we’re nowhere near the end of the 'free' Internet,” Warzel concluded, “the web’s untamed corners undoubtedly feel smaller.”

Read more about Internet use on Buzzfeed.

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