Content may or may not want to be free January 12, 2010 at 6:54 am

I recently had an email suggesting that I might like to republish Deus Ex on another website. The deal on offer involved no money, but more readers. Moreover, given the other content on the website concerned, those new readers would be less erudite than you, and I would be making money for the website owner. Why on earth would I want to do this?

A rejection was clearly unexpected to the proposer. He evidently expected me to acquiesce with a few grateful words. Undoubtedly some bloggers take the view that any publicity is good publicity — and that’s fine. But I think a number of more nuanced models of web content can coexist.

Paid for content makes sense in some situations: as an author, I certainly support it, and I find Google’s attempts to scan everything they can lay their hands on rather troubling.

Free content but with restricted rights – as in the particular creative commons license I use – is also a useful model. And of course much free content is in practice restricted by how hard it is to find. If someone in the know does not tell you that it is there, you are unlikely to ever come across it.

If you want the maximum number of readers, and you don’t care about their quality, or the amount of spam, idiotic, or otherwise dubious comments you get, then completely free content with copious redistribution is the way to go. But that does not suit every blog, let alone every form of online content. Like most evangelists, the content wants to be free mob have an overly simplistic view of the web. Some of us are perfectly happy in our little corners far from the crowds.

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