for the past several years, i've
made dialling up the webzine Salon (www.salon.com) the first thing I do every morning.
When it launched five years ago, the online magazine quickly worked its way into my routine of Web reading, nestled somewhere between the Guardian and football365.com. Last Friday, Salon began charging for its words, at least some of them, and I won't be paying.
After a few tense years of cost-cutting, employee-shedding and dumbing down, Salon now has to charge its readers a fee if it wants to survive. Its so-called premium subscription service allows you to turn off the banner and pop-up ads throughout the site and to access some exclusive columns.
At $30 U.S. a year, it seems fairly reasonable, but judging by the past, Salon's cash-grab initiative seems destined to fail.
As with Napster and free music, Web users are reluctant to pay money for strictly online things. For a couple of years the excellent online journal Slate (www.slate.com) charged its readers for subscriptions, only offering the bare bones of the site for free. Slate is now a free read, albeit one supported by Microsoft.
The media journal Inside (www.inside.com) also runs a subscription service, offering industry data such as book sales figures, TV ad rates and a "litigation tracker" that follows lawsuits around America. If you just want to read the stories, though, you don't have to shell out.
Maybe, again like Napster, I'd be more inclined to pay to read Salon if they truly made it worth my while.
All the major newspapers of the world, from the New York Times (www.nytimes.com) to the Sunday Times of London (www.sunday-times.co.uk) offer their entire package on the Net for free but could easily charge subscription fees because of what they have to give.
Most people would be willing to shell out for an unexpurgated archive of free music. When his excellent Open Letters site (www.openletters.net) crumbled due to a lack of cash, former Saturday Night editor Paul Tough received money from dozens of readers because the first-person narratives were something you couldn't read anywhere else.
In Salon's case, the goods simply aren't there any more. As the magazine tightened its belt to deal with dot-com reality, its best features, including travel pieces and an excellent books and entertainment section, disappeared, replaced by television listings, an occasionally excellent technology column and an emphasis on scandal, sex and gossip.
Salon Premium's "exclusives" include a George W. Bush tracker, more gossip and erotic art. Blah.
Give me something interesting and I'll think about shelling out. Otherwise, expect the Salon to go dark sooner rather than later.