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Should all online content be free?

An article on The Drum stated that it expects that “90% of online content will be held behind paywalls in the next three years”. This really sparked my interest in this topic and brought me to the belief that this could have a negative impact. Strangely, not only for the users but for the content providers as well.

Let’s take look at education first. I believe that the advantages available to content providers actually greatly outnumber the disadvantages. It is usually argued by content providers that if 2 years of research have gone into an academic paper they should charge for people to use it. However, having read around the topic I am inclined to argue otherwise. Even though they may not gain funds for use in future research, they are far more likely to be cited in other peoples work as their research is much easier to get hold of. This means that their research is more likely to spread around the academic community and potentially even gain commission from an organization or government body. According to David Wiley (2012), distributing research online costs as little as $0.0007. Given this, initially it makes financial sense for the content provider to make these resources freely available online instead of publishing it, which has been estimated to cost around $250. Although, it is very easy to feel this in the position of a student, I can imagine that it is a lot harder to come around to this idea as a researcher.

If we were to expand on the question and talk about the topic outside of just an educational basis, the subject of open source software comes up. There are many advantages to a content provider of releasing their software on an open source basis. Anyone can read the code for it and help to improve it via a small community of experienced programmers. This means that the program itself benefits and in turn the content provider as their program will penetrate the market deeper and more easily. A great example of this is Open Office, if you read the development section of their Wikipedia page you can see how quickly their software has progressed due to their community of programmers.

So, what do you think ?