Barry Diller And I Don't Agree About Charging For Online Content

A few hours ago I interviewed IAC Chairman-CEO Barry Diller onstage at the Advertising 2.0 conference, During said interview, he came out much more strongly in favor of paid content online than I’d ever heard him.

I’m nowhere near so sanguine as he is that getting people to pay online will be so doable. Not that the big newspaper and magazine and TV players won’t try; some of those houses are burning down so quickly that their occupants no longer have a choice. But there’s a very big difference between putting a tollbooth up and stopping motorists from flocking to the other free roads available to them.

I typically do a terrible job remembering and notating exactly what was said in such onstage situations. Luckily CNET’s Caroline McCarthy was all over today’s session. Read her full account, but some of her Diller quotes appear after the jump:

"I absolutely believe that the Internet is passing from its free phase into a paid system," he predicted (though, keep in mind, Diller did say he doesn't like to predict). "Inevitably, I promise you, it will be paid. Not every single thing, but everything of any value. Again, take commodity away from it."

(Tim Shey’s Twitter feed quotes Diller as saying Internet video “is going to get paid for” as well.)

"People were so frightened of not being dinosaurs, and [burying] their heads, and not having what happened to the music industry happen to them, they just slapped everything up on the Internet for free," he said. "That's an accidental historical moment that will absolutely be corrected."

"One of the greatest barriers to buying things is the steps that it takes, and we all know the difference when you go to Amazon and you just push your little thing and it's bought, paid for, delivered, billed, et cetera., instantly, and how much that has enabled or how much that has made the difference between just browsing and buying...that little thing, that in fact you scroll it, you do it, it comes, everything else is taken care of, is the answer to what's going to happen on the Internet when, in fact, we get the applicability of that broadly."

That last bit appears to endorse the work of Steve Brill’s upcoming Journalism Online launch, which promises to have a single payment system that will work across the paid-only areas of many different sites, and which will debut later this year.

As for me, I wish it were such a simple leap from iphone applications to paying for content online. It’s one thing to pay for a utility—like a souped-up GPS for iPhones that don’t come with it—and another thing entirely to pay for a short video or an article. Yes, people pay for songs and movies and TV show episodes on iTunes. But these are much more durable artifacts. You can consume them more than once--and in some cases, many more times than "more than once"--unlike the average gag video or newspaper article. Also, uhm: many iPhone apps are really cheap. I’m not sure a New York Times app for 99 cents is going to save the company.

The bias for free content online has little to do with there being no easy way to simplify a buying process. It has to do with people being unwilling to pay for most online content. I strongly suspect that we’re going to see much broader experimentation and implementation of ways to cadge fees from online users. I’m much less sure that it’s going to be easy to get those users to go along.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.