Note: This column represents the opinions
of the writer and as such, is not purported as fact|
We all knew it would never last so nobody can be surprised that TelstraClear
has decided to axe its free ISP service ZFree as of April 30.
the contents of Aardvark's "million-dollar ideas" notebook
are revealed for all to see!
Even though it was expected, the closure of ZFree is still bad news for the
many people who have found free Net access to be the only affordable way
to surf the web and I fear it may just widen the digital divide, even if
Of course few of us will have much sympathy for those who have been
by selling their free accounts by auction.
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ZFree's demise, or as TelstraClear would have us believe -- its metamorphosis
into a paid service, is just further evidence that the once ubiquitous
free lunch is all but gone.
Bad news on the DSL front too, with Telecom effectively raising the price
it charges ISPs for those customers who have a static IP number -- an increase
that will almost certainly be passed on to users.
I find it rather strange that, at a time when Telecom NZ keeps hiking its
prices, British Telecom in the UK is about to announce that it will be slashing
Further proof of the need to pack your own lunch when going online has been
delivered with the axing of a free realtime sharemarket quote system
Meanwhile, across the ditch it was announced earlier this month that users of the
portal will soon have to pay to use some of the services it offers -- and
I suspect we'll see other sites following suit in the near future.
Much as I hate to admit it, I suspect that unless there's a massive resurgence
in online advertising, the subscription model is about to become increasingly
Of course there will always be free or ad-funded options to subscription sites
but the reality is that, given the rising costs of production, these sites
will almost certainly be "second rate" offerings. A good analogy is the
difference between those free newspapers versus The NZ Herald or Dominion.
Why is it that Net users have been willing to pay $30 a month for flat-rate
dial-up Net access but unwilling to pay for content?
Why is it that Net users have been willing to pay an annual subscription for print-media
magazines such as NetGuide
but unwilling to pay to read the same quality and quantity of
However, I wonder if the mindset of your average Net user is starting to change?
The demise of free Net access might just be the final kick in the pants required
to get people acknowledging that they're going to have to pay for quality
Of course there's still the issue of how people can remit payment for all this content
and, as I mooted last week, ISPs could play a role here -- but that's not
the only way.
Perhaps there's huge potential for the creation of a new company which can
act as a subscription clearinghouse for online content sites.
I would envision this as a place where Net surfers could pay for all their
casual or regular subscriptions in one fell swoop. This service would then
track your access to pay-per-view or subscription sites and forward payment
on your behalf as necessary.
In the case of casual access, this would mean that you could have all your
small purchases (perhaps as little as $0.05 per time) aggregated and pay
for them in one lump sum each month.
By virtue of having a large number of subscribers, the service would then be able
to aggregate all the payments into a single remittance to each site each month.
Any entrepreneur considering the implementation of such a system need not
consider New Zealand as their only market -- this is the type of thing that
could be operated globally from a local base and, just like Pay Pal, has
the potential to turn into an incredibly valuable business.
Of course timing is everything -- however, all the indicators are that NOW
is exactly the right time. Any takers?
ps: I know there are bound to be similar services already in operation -- but
since I, as a content publisher, haven't been approached by any of them, I
suspect that the market could be scooped by the one which gets its marketing
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