Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

The Rising Cost of Free Lunches on the Web

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

The Rising Cost of Free Lunches on the Web

Article excerpt

The golden age of the Web is over. Or is it? The ongoing tumble in the value of technology stocks and the subsequent drying up of venture capital for dot-coms has had a dramatic repercussion for Web-empowered consumers and businesses: Many Web services that were once free now cost.

The formerly free Britannica.com, for instance, just began charging individual users subscription rates of $5 per month or $50 per year for full access.

Britannica.com, the online version of Encyclopedia Britannica and other reference material at , understands the Web mindset, which holds to the adage, "Information wants to be free." The service still provides some free information, though there are caveats.

Without subscribing, you can still access all of the articles in the encyclopedia, though you can read only the first two paragraphs, and you can still access all of the pictures, though you can see only small thumbnail versions.

Going the free route, you can still read the full text of articles about the subject you're searching for from popular magazines and the most recent 30 days of articles from the Reuters news service. But you'll be bombarded with pop-up ads, whereas subscribing eliminates this distraction.

Britannica.com isn't alone. The list of other one-time Web freebies whose backers now want you to open your wallet is long and includes top photo sito Photopoint at , the excellent remote storage service Xdrive at , the versatile voice-mail service eVoice at , the popular online payment service PayPal at and the well-regarded stock tracker Company Sleuth at .

This sea change from free to pay wasn't unexpected but can be painful nonetheless. Who likes forking over hard-earned dollars when you were previously subsidized by startups looking to build market share?

But without adequate revenue, many of these start-ups have gone away. It can be hugely expensive to run a Web-based service. Some photo Web sites, for instance, burn through $500,000 to $1 million a month to maintain their sites, costs that advertising alone can't cover, according to market research firm ARS.

The harsh reality is that if you're using and benefiting from a service and want it to be around in the future, you're better off paying for it than expecting a sustained free ride. When a service you or your business depends on goes under, you have to pay the occasionally large cost or undergo the occasionally large inconvenience of switching to another service. …

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