In today’s Silicon Valley Insider, Henry Blodget observes that Amazon Kindle owners don’t seem to balk at the idea of paying for content. Although his observation is merely a person anecdote, it’s worth nothing that industry analysts estimated total eBook reader sales (including Kindle, Sony eReader and others) at well over a million units in 2008, and that doesn’t count the millions of mobile phone users worldwide that already paying for downloadable books. Presumably, the majority of these early adopters are voracious readers purchasing several items per year; we also know that some number of them have even (gasp!) subscribed to the New York Times and other periodicals despite the fact that those publications can even be read for free.
This is yet another sign that the era of free online content may be coming to an end much sooner than anyone expected.
On a hardware level, many parallels have been made between the Kindle and the iPod in terms of revoloutionizing the format. But the iPod did much more than that. It did what music industry attorneys could not, which was kill Napster and many other free music services. Apple found that music lovers were more than happy to pay for downloadable music so long as it was reasonably priced.
So what does this have to do with search engine marketing (SEM) or search engine optimization (SEO)?
The Web as we know it has been completely reshaped by Google AdSense, which in turn could not have been successful without the millions of pages of free content that began proliferating as early as the late 1990s, as paid content models gave way to ad-supported business models. Without so much high quality content to serve contextually-based ads against, the entire evolution of advertising might have been different. We’ve already glimpsed the future in social networks, which rich data profiles on site members are a game changer.
If your Web strategies currently depend on large amounts of freely accesible content written by paid professionals, it’s not too early to start drawing up Plan B.