Take My Money, Please

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare

News
stories say that ads for the X10 miniature camera are driving
web users bonkers. If you surf fast, you can find yourself swatting
down pop-up ads in the way you play a video game at the pizza
parlor. You have to have great hand-eye-coordination (the supposed
skill that video addicts always claim they are acquiring) just
to keep up.

There's
nothing wrong with advertising, of course. It's a great capitalist
tool that allows us to get many things for free – network television,
weekly newspapers, t-shirts from your local car dealer – that you
would otherwise have to pay for. It keeps down the price of magazines
and newspapers and provides important information to consumers
as well.

But
on the web, the relationship between advertising and real copy
seems to be on the verge of becoming oddly unbalanced. We went
from the absurd situation where everything on the web was free
during the credit-fueled economic boom, to today where the price
you pay for everything is a useless pop-up on your computer. National
Review online clobbers every reader with an in-your-face pop
up.

Look,
I'm glad to pay for sites I like. But don't send me a spy camera.
And, for god's sake, don't send me a subscription to National
Review.

LewRockwell.com
is mercifully free of all this. It's a site funded by a nonprofit
organization, the Center for Libertarian Studies, which has donors.
At some level, every person who writes for LRC is also a donor
to the cause. The site is an act of charity not to mention brilliance.

That
system works for this site, but it can't work for them all. Ever
since for-profit sites realized that hits alone don't pay, they've
been trying to come up with some other way.

The
solution is so easy. The web needs to move toward fee-for-service,
at every level. If you think about it, it is absurd that hotmail.com
and yahoo.com offer their mail services and community services
at no charge. The interfaces gets ever better looking and easier
to use. And with local servers and hard drives now at intense
risk for viruses and worms, storing files and email at one of
these large providers is a great idea.

People
love these services. Meanwhile, the companies that offer them
are facing serious financial strains with lower and lower stock
prices and all lending sources drying up. It make or break time
for these folks. And all they can come up with is another gimmick
to sell me a stupid camera or credit card, or fob off a copy of
a credit-bureau report. Isn't the solution obvious?

Why
the heck won't these people charge me? I would gladly pay for
my hotmail account. I would shell out to keep my MSN community.
I would subscribe to keep space on yahoogroups. Show me where
to click and I'll do it. Millions of others will too. Imagine
what kind of income these firms would enjoy if they started charging
$10 per year per user for these services.

Why
don't they? Perhaps they fear the wrath of java-heads and Linux-lizards
who have been chafing ever since the web went commercial. Perhaps
they fear that consumers would be upset, which they certainly
would. But in a for-profit system that is losing money, all that
matters is whether people are willing to shell out for your product.

We
laugh at Salon.com and their magically evaporating funding and
day-by-day collapse in quality. But give them credit: at least
they were willing to test whether the users were actually willing
to pay for what they offer. (They were not.) The same can be said
of porn sites, which were confident enough in their marketability
to mix up it up with the competition the old-fashioned way.

If
MSN and Yahoo start charging, there will also be howls from the
political left, which will announce that a free email account
is a human right. We can look forward to all sorts of techie amendments
to the UN Charter: “Consistent with human dignity and the right
to communicate, the rights of all people to an email sending and
receiving web-interface is hereby affirmed.”

But
thank goodness nobody pays attention to the book-length list of
rights pumped out by international social workers. The poor don't
have a right to DVD players, CD burners, or woolen socks. And
neither is there any right to a free space on somebody else's
server. Let the poor of the third world lick stamps. Or perhaps
Ted Turner will establish a fund to give cnnmail.com accounts
to the multitudes.

Websites
of the world, take our money. Demand our credit card numbers and
paypal accounts. Make us pay. The glories of the web hang in the
balance.

August
1, 2001

Jeffrey
Tucker [send him mail]
is editor of Mises.org.

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare