A Paid Internet

March 15, 2021

Here's a thought I've been wrestling with for a while. We're entering a new phase of the internet. Something like a Web 3.0. And the defining feature is paying for content/adl-free tools.

Ten years ago, The Internet was free. Few sites and products had ad's and if they did, they were shitty banner ad's that were mostly ignored. If you wanted to read an article, look at a photo or watch a video you just could. With very little friction and zero money out of your wallet.

Around five years ago (and thanks to some new tech) ad's started to get good (effective). They became targeted and personalised. And the sites and products that previously didn't have ad's, started to feel the pressure too 'monetise'. Photos are cool, but how will you make money?

Products largely stayed the same, but now you can only see what we want you to see and every third post is an ad for something that looks like content.

The whole time, we've had content creators (photographers, video producers, writers, authors, actors, comedians, models, etc.) building audiences because that probably felt like the right thing to do. Having 250k followers on something is probably better than having 0 followers on nothing. But how do you make money from these people? Maybe you can sell them a book or a ticket or something once a year. Or maybe you can charge other people to show a product or service to your followers. Both options worked, but you couldn't charge your audience directly for your work.

Today, that has all changed. In the last 12-18 months there has been a shift. There are a few things that seem to have happened at a similar time:

  1. New tools exist to allow content creators to monetise their work
  2. Culturally, we feel more okay with paying for things online
  3. There is a feeling that we are over or anti-ad's and 'selling our data'

Each of these is probably an essay, but my rough summary goes like this:

I've heard you can buy things online now, but I don't trust that shit what if I get hacked and loose all my money?! Okay I've bought a bunch of shit now and nothing bad happened and I only know one person who got screwed but the bank helped them straight away so now I trust this stuff. Geee, these ad's are fucken annoying and I feel a bit shit when I scroll on my phone. But I also love the content I'm seeing. Also, I heard that they are selling out data? That sounds bad. Nothing I can do though....

And then we insert a bunch of new tools and things start to change. Twitch, OnlyFans, Substack, etc. have all burst onto the scene and are allowing content creators to charge their audiences directly for their work (less a fee). Cutting out the publisher or whoever was in the way before.

Paywalls start to appear on your favourite publications. Paid versions of Spotify, and even specific podcasts start to appear. Where your credit card statement once has $0 on it for online content and tools, it now has $50 or $100 or $500.

You feel...better? Something feels better about paying people for their work directly and you don't feel like your mind was assaulted with ad's every time your open your phone or laptop.

Things are starting to change and what does that mean?

There is opportunity everywhere. This feels good for creators and not so great for advertisers and middle men.

There is also unfairness as well: "ad's are a tax on poor people". So elegantly put by The G-Prof. But there is something in that idea. What do we do if a bunch of people can't afford to buy your new content?

Today, in 2021, I pay for the following things (excluding online storage which is ~$300 p/y):

Benedict Evans newsletter: $100
NYT: $48
Spotify: $180
Netflix: $240
Making Sense App: $150
Hey (email): $100

So there is $818 I'm paying annually already to read, watch, and not see ad's. I wonder what that figure will be in 5 years?

Update: I just read an NYT article on the move to subscriptions published on March 9th. Written much better than what I wrote.