Short Take: Whore Or Prostitute? Mac Web Can Sell Its Soul & Stay True, Too

Walt Simonson is a whore. I, however, am a courtesan.

John Byrne, comics artist/writer and Mac user

The worst is past, but the face of the Web has been forever changed. Bad business models destroyed some businesses, which in turn reduced the value of online ad space, which thence undermined other businesses.

Dan Knight, Low End Mac

Amazon.com made a profit this week, its first profit ever in its six-year history.

After 35 million customers and a perennial role as the poster boy of the internet economy, Jeff Bezos & Company scraped together a modest net profit of $5 million, versus the $545 million loss announced this same time last year. The moral of the story here is that you actually can make money on the internet, though it may take a while. Okay, thatis all of the good news we have for you today, for we turn our attention towards the Mac sliver of the Web world and see a more decidedly somber financial picture...

I present you five vignettes, seemingly disparate and unrelated on the surface, but they are five sides of the same picture. They present a collective, telling picture of the Mac Web as a volatile, wild-and-woolly, here-today-gone-tomorrow world of internet publications...

Vignette #1: If youive been around for a while, you are aware of Low End Macis public story of financial ups and downs. Typically a successful site, consistently noted and listed as a top venue for Mac Web content, Publisher Dan Knight chronicled his decision to quit his day job and make Low End Mac his full-time paycheck. It didnit work out totally. Things became scarce and other streams of revenue were mulled over, as noted in the following articles -- "The Future of Free Web Content," "Buy This Site" and "A New Option for Online Funding." That saga continues to this day...

Vignette #2: The Mac Observer announced recently a subscription service in which readers can purchase the ability to read and view the site, sans advertising. Hey, weive got to pay the bills too, neh?

Vignettes #3, #4 and #5: On Jan. 22, MacFixit unveiled MacFixit Pro, in which you will pay to view its copious archives and reports on troubleshooting your Mac hardware and software. Macsufer announces this week a subscription model similar to The Mac Observeris. Recently Shawn King quit Mac Show Live over, among other things, the fact that the web-cast radio program is now planning to charge listeners to hear portions of that show.

Over at MyMac.com, fellow scribe Bob McCormick weighed in yesterday, bemoaning the fact that what was once free is no longer. When I read his thoughts, I agreed with him readily, but, later that night, I thought about it again. Currently, Mac Web sites are offering us the option of viewing their content for free, while offering an ad-free version for a price. There are others, like MacFixit, that offer some content for free while reserving the choicest morsels in exchange for our dollars. We readers have no problem with either, because we are still able to get freebies. But, what if times get harder on the Web guys? What if they find that they can no longer give away any of their content? We readers are probably going to go into a Richter-measurable rage at that point. "How dare those money-grubbing bastards charge us?" youill probably say.

But, what if the Web was never meant to be free?

What if the "free-web" model were a faulty premise, and what we are seeing now is merely the market correcting itself? Thatis one view. A second view is that the Web is still young and is stumbling about," looking" for a revenue stream that is the perfect fit. A third model is that we already pay for our ISP, so why the hell should we turn around and have to pay for the ability to browse news, entertainment and opinion?

These options are non-issues for the big sites that are living in the deep pockets of parent companies and corporate namesakes. For the smaller Mac sites, of which there are many, the option is obvious: Survival of the Fittest, which is where I stand on the issue. As with any industry, not many of the players you see today will be on the field in the final analysis, plain and simple. The key to survival in this web-for-profit game is to provide something that the people want, so that if you eventually have to charge them, then there will be sufficient patrons who will be willing to pay to ensure your continued existence.

The bottom line is this: our generation is the ultimate expression of the free-loading, "Me" generation, of which I am chief. In this age of Napster and HotLine, we are used to getting everything at no cost. But how many of us would even consider working for free? Then, why do we expect the Mac Web to stay one Big Freebie? Sure, it started off as a bunch of hobbyists, but hobbyists want to be able to go to Mickie Deeis every now and then, too. Living off of love doesnit work in relationships, nor in business practices.

This is hard for me to say, because Iim the biggest freeloader out on the Mac web, but, if the Mac market share is going to grow, the issue of free-or-money will be faced sooner or later. If the Mac share increases, rest assured that ZDNet and others could very well start up their own Macmag.com, and they only give it away because advertisers are already throwing them buckets of "duckets" to enable them to pay their bills, to grow and still be able to give away "free" Web content. The Mac Web is only attempting to move towards the Big Boysi way of doing things.

The Mac Web has no choice but to "grow or go" -- and growing costs money while going doesnit.

KnowhutImean?

Fin.

Further reading:

Rodney O. Lain will write for food. Or food stamps. Or alcohol. Or Tylenol. Or... When that capitalist pig isnit selling himself to the highest bidder, he mulls over Keynesian economic theory. When heis not out making the world safe for Mac-Web capitalism -- "Mac writers of the world unite!" -- he practices what he preaches by writing his iBrotha column for The Mac Observer (for a small fee), as well as the occasional editorial. Rodney lives in Minnesota, where he is an IT supervisor for The Man at a Fortune 50 company.

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