Two companies that deal in information took opposite approaches to content, the consumer, and the impact of both on business last week. Time Warner's
AOL's move shouldn't be too surprising to those who have followed the Internet service provider's fortunes. Not only is the average Internet user more sophisticated than in AOL's heyday, but high-speed Internet is cheap. Free email from Microsoft's
Flagging subscriber numbers have led AOL to new ideas for retention. Now, it's come around to the idea of letting potential users sample its content, such as concerts and news.
Meanwhile, Reuters plans to curtail its free content, hoping to woo consumers to its own site. MarketWatch.com
Indeed, for many individual investors, Yahoo! Finance's news feeds might spring to mind, whereas Reuters is a keystone of free bulk business and stock news. (Individual investors may not miss its updates on pork belly futures and the like, but I digress.) Incidentally, Dow Jones
Reuters' plans are an attempt to garner some of those robust advertising revenues that are bolstering profits at Yahoo! and others. Eventually, its significant content will be available on a subscription-only basis.
Whether stand-alone Reuters will attract high levels of Web traffic is questionable. Though it worked for WSJ, will Reuters have the same draw? There's a lot of information out there, and this will require that consumers change their traffic patterns or pony up for news that has been free for years, unless Reuters plans significant value adds such as WSJ's online version boasts. Meanwhile, competition's still steep -- MarketWatch and Thomson
Though there are forces at work that support the decisions, both AOL and Reuters seem to be showing some late-onset desperation over the idea of having missed the party. However, embracing the free Internet with its content may work very well to remind users that AOL exists -- Reuters' move to isolate itself now may leave it out in the cold.
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Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. She's been a WSJ Online and Yahoo! Finance user for many years.