The Rise of the Premium Internet

The re-erection of Paywalls

This weekend in November 2019 The New York Times Magazine published a number of articles looking at what is “the internet” today.

The topics covered the rise of Chinese super-apps and provided a perspective on the very big US tech companies and how they are dependent on each other in a number of ways (mainly technically).

One article stood out: A look at how – gradually, slowly and to an extend logically – paywalls for content are gradually becoming an accepted part of using the internet.

Not too long ago the opposite sentiment was the norm. “Information wants to be free” was a key slogan. Companies, most notable newspaper organizations, had not many choices at the time: Asking to be paid for content was frowned upon, for a number of reasons.

But, at the article notes: This has changed, entirely and in less than a decade.

“Today’s internet is full of premium subscriptions, walled gardens and virtual V.I.P. rooms, all of which promise a cleaner, more pleasant experience than their free counterparts. The pay walls have been rebuilt, and the artists no longer work for tips.” (Source: The New York Times).

Spotify, Netflix, Twitch, Patreon, these are just a few of the services offering a better experience, provided the user pays a certain amount. According to the article the average American by now pays “more than $1300 on digital media” in 2018. This figure is about to rise, for the individual and regarding the total number of paid-for offerings.

In theory this development should be a boon for artists who where long struggling to be paid for original work. In practice, we must assume that while there is a boom in TV and film production due to the demand from streaming services, artists making a living from the internet directly are rare. Most will benefit from traditional jobs being offered by film studios or others developing content for the internet.

What is lost is the idea of an egalitarian internet where everyone could experience the same, for free. One perspective now: That we witness the creation of a 1st and a 2nd class internet, divided by numerous paywalls. What is remarkable is how this trend has evolved.

“Paying for goods and services online used to mean you were an easy mark — someone too lazy or unsophisticated to figure out the necessary hacks and workarounds. Now, subscriptions are a status symbol.” (Source: The New York Times).