I was reading the latest Business 2.0, and in it was an interesting article on Various, the company that owns AdultFriendFinder (amongst many other *FriendFinder.com sites). It also had an article on LibraryThing, where people can pay to list books they own (the first 200 are for free).
An interesting point by the owner of Various, Andrew Conru, was about how people wanted to pay – in the case of their BigChurch.com site (religious dating), their registration jumped immediately after adding a subscription fee. To quote verbatim:
“On the Web there are not enough filters to sincerity”
I couldn’t agree with this quote anymore. As is evident on social-networks like Digg, the ‘mass’ effect is not necessarily a good thing – mob mentality caters to the lowest denominator, with fantastic news stories such as ‘AWESOME PIC’ the current du jour.
Money has always been a filter. Be it a private school that asks for a ‘donation’, be it a conference you have to pay $5000 to get into, or be it a forum that charges you access to its member areas.
The evolution of most medias has evolved from free -> advertising-supported -> subscription based.
It has happened to newspapers
It has happened to radio
It has happened with television
It has happened on the web (ie online newspapers or forums)
We already have a Digg-like site with a paid barrier of entry with Metafilter.
There are two fields that require a subscription/upfront-fee for admittance (and its coming):
Yep, I said it. I remember when Greg Sterling mentioned the idea (sorry can’t find the link), I was ready (quite a few people were not). And why not? What is so different about blogs that a subscription model is so horrible? Heck you can argue Search Engine Watch already does it.
2. Local Reviews
I’m not advocating something closed off like Angie’s List. No – the entire point is to leave everything open, but – to contribute you must become a subscriber. It’s an odd situation isn’t it? Everyone can see everything for free, but if you want to write a review (which takes up your time), you gotta pay for it.
Lets step back for a second and think of the situation (where the initial catch-22 problem has been solved). You have a local review website that has 10,000 reviews in your area. Every single reviewer has been ‘qualified’ by having to pay an upfront free (lets say $15). In such a situation, people want to contribute. And knowing they will be contributing alongside serious people (qualified by the buy-in), the ensuring contributions should also be high quality.
There will always be shills. But a combination of upfront free + ‘invites’ could be a great way to go at it (if done properly).