Paying for digital content has been a continuing source of discussion and contention around the worlds (the ‘real’ and the digital worlds, that is). Content that in our tangible lives we tend to pay for unquestioningly often seems to lose its value when it gets transported into the digital space. I mean, when was the last time you bit-torrented a newspaper? This conundrum has yet to be solved in a truly meaningful way–lots of attempts have been made, some more successful than others. To be sure, it is an ongoing problem and the solutions are continually evolving, but nobody seems to have nailed it quite yet.
I recently read an article by iA co-founder Oliver Reichenstein that pricked my User Centered Design ears and made me think about how the problem could be solved in a more meaningful way: through good old-fashioned Experience Design. In the article he suggests that perhaps the answer to the challenge is not to limit what content can be accessed for free and what must be paid for, but rather what the experience is like for the paying customer versus the free-browser. His thought is for a Business-Class news experience, similar to that of a Business Class air traveler. The end destination for the business class customer is the same as that for the economy user, but by the end of the flight, the economy user knows full-well what he is missing out on and is decidedly more likely to opt for the benefits offered by becoming a paying customer.
I don’t know if this is the full solution, but it is a very interesting way to think about the problem and is an excellent read.