That and “grok” are two of Robert A. Heinlein’s many contributions into the modern lexicon. The first, an acronym for “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.” The second, grok, means to understand something completely, entirely.

Which brings us to a question:

What do the media industry and (some) consumers not grok about TANSTAAFL?

And another:

Why even bother resurrecting this old and beaten down theme?

Because, just like in any bad horror movie, this monster just won’t die. It’s been a couple of weeks when (finally) the much anticipated pay wall for The New York Times was officially announced in all its glory and detail.

Again, help me understand here… Which part of TANSTAAFL is so hard to grok? I believe that The Times hasn’t raised the pay wall as high as their journalistic bar is. I may betray my age, but it seems to me that the model that has worked for time immemorial still should apply: Walk up to any newsstand, and the experience unfolds: You see the newspaper stacked in its place. You read the headlines (free). You are fascinated/intrigued by the headlines (the high journalistic bar part). You pick the paper up, reach into your pocket, and pay the person behind the counter. That would be the pay part. If you try to abscond without paying, then the nice policeman at the corner would like to have a word or two with you.

Very simple to grok, really. Does it have value? Then it is not free.

Now, how hard was that? And, doesn’t it amaze you in its simplicity and beauty? Works for all sorts of “media.” Same with magazines. Same with books. What on earth makes anyone think that once this content is digital somehow all this goes out the window?

I refuse to go down the “on-line is different” rabbit hole, or “the genie is out of the bottle” argument. There is NO GENIE! There is intellectual property of value. Your choice is to consume it, or not. Your choice is to sponsor it, or not.

And that’s the proverbial pink elephant in the room. This is the fear that’s gripping everyone in Media. That their content is just not good enough, and thank God for those foolish advertisers that keep paying! We’ll just keep delivering traffic (any which way) and problem solved! Seriously? You really, really, think that advertisers are that stupid? Or that the consumers are dumb enough not to be able to distinguish between aggregated junk, crowdsourced “opinions” and high quality content?

The reverse is true. Advertisers are some of the brightest most quantitative minds in the business. For advertisers this has been equivalent to hitting the motherload! Metrics, metrics, metrics! Hardly there before, now they are drowning in them. Already they can tell where the highest return on their investment is down to the penny, and let me assure you, it’s not Bob’s blog straight from his bathroom. Today, advertisers have great choices. And they are exercising them, along with their audience. Choices, choices, choices…

But here is the only choice that no one has: To demand top tier, highest quality content, for free.

Even a 12-year-old groks that!

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