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Web content may not be free for long

New research shows that more websites are gradually charging for content to counter the downturn in the dot com industry and a few surfers are showing a willingness to pay. Meanwhile, maktoob.com has been reporting profits. <br>

Dot com companies have slowly begun to charge for content. Although some companies like International Data Corporation and the Economist have been doing this for quite a while, others could ill afford to charge surfers for fear of losing customers. But new research shows that a few people are paying for content on websites that used to be free of charge, although a majority have shifted to others that are free.

The Pew Internet & American Life project found that 17 percent of US Internet users, or 19 million people, have been asked to pay for online content that used to be free. Only 12 percent opted to pay for the content, whereas 50 percent found a free alternative site. The trend of paying for content has gradually begun in the UAE as well, where companies like Cyber Gear have put up regularly-updated information on their clients’ web site for a fee. Cyber Gear, itself, hosts about seven portals in the region.

Web sites that are charging for content are doing so to fatten up their slack profit margins or to make some profit. Otherwise, they are likely to go out of business. Twelve percent of Internet users, or 13 million people have said that one of their favourite websites has gone out of business. Sixty-two percent of those said that they had found other sites that offered the same information or service free-of-charge.

In the US, the dotcom business has taken a downturn and thirty four percent of those surveyed believe that the dotcom downturn will have a major impact on the US economy. Twelve percent said they or someone in their family had lost money investing in dotcoms, up from 12 percent, while 14 percent said they know someone who was laid off by an Internet company, up from 9 percent. But in the Middle East, information provided by Maktoob.com seems to paint an optimistic picture of the dotcom industry in the region. Commenting on media speculations about the overall business scenario in the Middle East, Samih Toukan, CEO of Maktoob.com explained that while some of the business organisations, particularly those related to aviation and tourism were the hardest hit, the Internet industry was yet to feel any major repercussions.

“We are witnessing an unprecedented upsurge in the number of page impressions due to the fact that Maktoob.com has been delivering up-to-the-minute and impartial news coverage from some of the highly respected regional and international sources,” said Toukan. ““While we earlier served in excess of 44 million page impressions, that number has now crossed well beyond 60 million page views,” he added.

In fact, Maktoob.com has registered 424 per cent growth in online advertising revenue between January and September 2001. Toukan also, however, briefly mentioned that partnering with a couple of Arabic newspapers in the region had brought in revenue through content.

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