Paywalls are the Maginot Line

Going Around The Maginot Line Through Belgium

Jim Spanfeller wrote an exceptional post on PaidContent yesterday. His argument is that technology is not nearly as important as content. That technology is really only of importance in radical transition phases: movable type, radio, television, and of course the web. Once the technology “settles down” it’s importance fades into the background to be replaced purely by content.

Content Is The Stuff We Mold

How can anyone disagree with the idea that content is king? Of course it is. But what has changed radically with this latest technological leap is that we no longer just consume content. In previous media we were simply consumers: we read, we listened, we watched. But now we interact. In fact, we have barely begun the phase of interaction. As things progress, content will increasingly become something we act upon, we mold, we shape and twist and regurgitate in different forms until we think we understand it.

Content Is NOT King. It is Clay.

What Spanfeller refers to as content, is really a rapidly aging idea of content. It is content as researched, digested, filtered and packaged by a journalist. Well, thanks, but that’s not what content is anymore. Content is the stuff from which we can make new things. It is raw government data, longitudes and latitudes of people and things at specific times, multitudes of opinions mashed up, raw video footage. It is the stuff from which we make other stuff and from which other stuff is then made. Content is not a dead-end. Content is something that can be intermixed with other content to create new content. It is NOT king. It does not sit on a throne and declare the truth. It is lives a thousand lives in a thousand guises.

Paywalls Are The Maginot Line

The French thought they could prevent future German invasions by building a fortress-style, fixed defense. What happened? Well mobile war happened. The Germans invaded France in a matter of days simply by driving around it through neighboring countries. Do paywalls mean the end of sharing of content altogether? Will a paywalled site only share with other paywall sites? There are only two likely results, death by starvation or a breach which was unanticipated (something as simple as a paid user posting content from the walled site openly).

Admissions of Guilt

Spanfeller actually knows what his community wants and admits that they haven’t been as good at providing it as they should be:

Users want multi-media, they want non-linear navigation, and, most importantly, they want interactivity—but in most cases, they’re not getting it. As people change how they consume and interact with content, publishers have to create some new rules.

But his new rules seem to be predicated on the protection of content. That is a losing game. If you want to succeed the new rules have to be around the creation of content, the re-creation of content, and providing your users with the ability to interact with and recreate content.

The Content Food Chain

Content is the food of our minds. Everyone will have to decide where they want sit in that food chain. It seems like Spanfeller wants to be the great French chef whose dishes are served to adoring and wealthy acolytes. If that’s what he wants, he’ll have a small group of people who are interested. Meanwhile companies like Google will be the content farmers giving millions of chefs the ingredients they need to create new dishes for billions of people to feast on according to their tastes.

Final note: forgive the mixed metaphors. I like clay and food.

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3 responses to “Paywalls are the Maginot Line

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