What Next for Electronic Publishing?

Article excerpt

Byline: By Simon Newsam

Just when you think the world is coming round to your way of thinking, the 21st Century sneaks up behind you and kicks you up the backside.

For the best part of a decade the publishing industry has been tormenting itself with debate and indecision about the future of the printed word.

Indeed, has it a future at all as electronic publishing knocks down barriers and opens the door to myriad possibilities?

The current consensus has led the big players in the print sector to develop an interest in digital media too. Print is still their king but the electronic upstarts have one eye on the crown.

And they've been proved right as online advertising in the UK is booming and producing significant revenue at last.

It may not yet match that of the print products but its stock is steadily rising.

Logically, the next step for many publishers is to consider paid-for content. After all, they sell newspapers and maga- zines - why can't they sell digital content?

In the past the hassle, cost, reliability and efficiency of selling something electronically proved prohibitive but advances in security and payment systems now make it far more attractive to consumers.

Of course, while this should generate additional income, it does pose a new set of questions, such as how will your customers feel about having to pay for something that they used to get free?

There have been occasions when even the mere suggestion that the content of a website should be paid for has led to a sharp intake of breath followed by hurried reassurances.

Interestingly, The Guardian newspaper's excellent Guardian Unlimited website has just adopted the less than transparent policy of asking users of its media section to register.

Simultaneously, they have been bending over backwards to reassure everyone and their dog that there are no plans to start charging for use of the site, but do they believe it? No. Not even the dog.

Explanations of how 'knowing your personal details will help us give users what they want' fall on deaf ears and statements such as, 'It will help keep the site free by allowing us to offer more targeted, effective advertising,' are scoffed at.

That said, I believe them.

I also believe them when they say they 'don't anticipate the drop-off rate will be a problem.'

Of course some - maybe even most - will not pay, but many will because no other site offers anything like it. It is essential to many of its users. …