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June 23rd, 2006

Is 'free content' always 'bad content'?

Is 'free content' always 'bad content'?

The FT reported this week that the Royal Society is to experiment with making its scientific journals available free on the internet.

Doing away with the traditional subscription model, the world’s oldest learned society will ask the contributors themselves to pay a GBP300 fee to make their papers available immediately online.

While the ‘open access’ model should speed up vital research in the scientific community, it has nevertheless raised concerns about the ability of journal publishers to pay for a proper peer review process, which is designed to maintain the quality and originality of scholarly content.

The prevailing view that ‘the only good content is paid-for content’ seems to be holding up, as criticism also continues to mount over the quality of the information provided by free resources like Wikipedia.

Yet those online information sources that insist on barricading their content behind subscription forms and password entry boxes risk isolating themselves from important and high-profile debates. For the increasingly influential blogging community, content that can’t be linked to is content that may as well not exist.

I would have liked to link to the FT’s news article in the first paragraph of this post, for example, but it’s subscription-only. And it’s not just us – there are another 46 million or so blogs out there that can’t link to the FT either. If the paper wants to be involved in the cut and thrust of modern online debate, it needs to change its strategy sharpish.

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