Are the days of Web freeloading over?

Computer user views website

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Renita Jablonski: If you or your friends keep your digital photos online at Kodak Gallery, it's decision time. Eastman Kodak says pay up by mid-May or say goodbye to your pics.

LA Times business columnist David Lazarus joins us now. David, what's behind this decision?

David Lazarus: Well, Kodak gallery is one of the leading photo repositories on the Web. They have 5 billion images stored, 70 million users. The problem is most of those users do not buy things from the site -- prints and CDs and whatnot -- they're just keeping their photo albums on the Web. Kodak has responded by saying hey, the free ride is over -- if you have 2 gigabytes or less stored online, you'll be paying $4.99 a year at least. If you have more than 2 gigs stored, you'll be spending $19.99 a year at least for the privilege. Or -- and this is a big or -- your photos could be deleted.

Jablonski: So is this the end of, as you call it, freeloading on the Web?

Lazarus: Well, that's the big question, isn't it? We're seeing a gradual transition of formerly free services introducing fees. Craigslist, for instance, used to put anything up there for free, now a number of the listings come with fees attached. Basketball superstar Kobe Bryant has reintroduced his Web site with a $49.95 a year membership fees. So clearly, fees are the gradually coming out. And the question that I posed in my column is, what about things that we all take for granted -- free e-mail from Yahoo and Google and Hotmail -- what if fees start getting attached to all of that?

Jablonski: Well, what if they do? I mean It's happened before, and you raised ATMs as an example of this.

Lazarus: I thought ATMs was a really good parallel. When they were first introduced, the banks had no fees attached to them, the idea being that they wanted you to get very accustomed to this technology and get away from thpse very costly tellars. And then in 1988, the fees started coming out for out-of-network cards. And then of course, we all know, the banking industry -- a fee to talk to the tellar, a fee to get your canceled checks back and on and on. I think it's a very good parallel for what we're facing in terms of the Internet, where things come out with no fees attached and gradually you see the fees starting to pile on as people start becoming accustomed to the technology and as the technology becomes a routine part of people's lives.

Jablonski: All right. LA Times business columnist David Lazarus. Thanks a lot.

Lazarus: Thank you.

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