A small headline on the bottom of the first page of the Globe and Mail's Report on Business section grabbed my attention. Amidst all of the excitement about the value of the dollar and proposed Sharia-style banks, a little headline stuck out, and seemed oddly placed on the front page, A Pay Wall Falls and the Web is Watching. A further scan reveals just how wrong I was - the New York Times abandons the subscription model. This is significant.
The article describes how the news source will be offering its daily news plus a searchable archive to readers for free. An interesting quote from Kaan Yigit of Solutions Research Group Inc. states, "(s)pecialized information is much more available today, so it becomes a real difficult economic proposition to charge for it." The decision has triggered a flurry of blog posts, and in his, David Utter of Webpronews comments on the economics of the move, citing the AOL decision to move away from subscriptions, the effectiveness of an audience-supported model (web traffic - advertising revenue) and, like the Globe article, contemplates what this move will mean for the Wall Street Journal.
Although consumer demand may not have caused this shift, certainly consumer behaviour has. Businesses do not want to lose the potential advertising revenue that will accompany repeat visits to a website. Consumers today expect more for less and are prepared to go elsewhere to get it.
Relevance to the real estate industry in Ontario is, in my opinion, twofold.
One: It highlights the pressure that consumers can place on information providers. In such a competitive market, holding on to information and forcing people to pay by either demanding money or personal information is archaic. The typical real estate site requires the consumer to reveal personal data before any information is distributed. There is no way for the consumer to judge the value, usefulness or quality of the information because the site will offer nothing until the consumer provides their email address, phone number or home address. This is a tactic, like high pressure sales, that was never appreciated by consumers. The difference today is that people have options.
Two: It highlights the fact that consumers expect access to complete information. Even though the article states that very old New York Times archival material will be provided at a price, for the most part, the information is available in its entirety. Currently, MLS.ca does not allow the consumer to access complete information. This causes the average user frustration when trying to do basic research. As a common example, the address of a home will frequently not be included on the MLS.ca listing. This forces the consumer to have to contact the listing agent (see point one) when perhaps all the consumer wants to do is determine whether the house they are looking at is close enough to their child’s daycare to be worth considering.
As recently recognized by the New York Times, AOL and others, open and free access to information that is complete and relevant to consumers is expected. The real estate industry in Ontario is going to have to catch up.
Rachel Loizos is an associate lawyer at Sotos LLP in Toronto. She practices in the area of real estate law.