SansBlogue  
Saturday, June 16, 2007
  Subscription, advertising and appeals online
Weeks back Peter Kirby asked an interesting question, "What Would Be Worth Paying a Subscription?" I meant to respond, but have been "too busy". Since the first semester marking season is upon me, I am still "too busy", but serendipity has added two other contributions to the mix - and it is Saturday (the day of rest, when even Bible teachers who preach in churches may take a break (-;

Peter poses the question: "What kind of Internet resource would be worth paying a subscription to access?" implying (I assume the question presumes a Bible-related Internet resource (-;

He goes on to outline a tool that he thinks would be worthy of payment:
  • A text of the New Testament with apparatus. This means that textual variants would be noted in an online format. To my knowledge, this is not done in a thoroughgoing way on a website, even now.
  • Texts from the Roman, Greek, Jewish, and Ancient Near East worlds that have interest on their own and that may shed light on the Bible. These texts should be both in English and in their original tongues.
  • Cross-references between texts to note connections (like the "e-Catena" and the Thomas commentary's parallels do in miniature).
Now, assuming such a tool were available online, would people pay?

No.

Now, I do not know this as a fact - no one has yet tried a subscription model for such a tool. But we do know that when Zack Hubert appealed for funds to support development of his fine Greek Bible tool he got almost nowhere. People will not donate to support good useful projects. The (lack of) sales of the CD version of Amos: Hypertext Bible Commentary, which we had hoped might help cover some of the costs of that project also points in the same direction. The culture of the free is deeply rooted online. Although offline people would be quite happy paying larger sums of money for products, online we expect them to be free, and we resist paying.

It gets worse, even when people will pay for online electronic content, as they do for iTunes music, many of them copy the content freely for their friends. So, iTunes sales are beginning to flatline, and Peter Gabriel (the musician and Internet angel) and other less famous investors are setting up an ad-supported (un-DRMed) MP3 download service. Whether this will work, whether we like the idea of adverts everywhere, or not, this reinforces the deep roots of free culture in the electronic world.

Perhaps incidentally, perhaps not, Matthew Haughey noticed that people who click on ads are usually one-off visitors, not returnees. So, he claims, you can turn off ads for regular visitors, but keep them for those who stumble across your site. I really like this idea, except how do you ever turn visitors into regulars if the visitors are bombarded by ads?!

Maybe we are returning to patronage, like in the Renaissance when rich Italians paid artists and scientists to generate a new and vibrant culture... anyone know a rich Italian with a passion for the Bible?

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