Clay Shirky: Fame vs Fortune: Micropayments and Free Content:

“Free content is thus what biologists call an evolutionarily stable strategy. It is a strategy that works well when no one else is using it — it’s good to be the only person offering free content. It’s also a strategy that continues to work if everyone is using it, because in such an environment, anyone who begins charging for their work will be at a disadvantage. In a world of free content, even the moderate hassle of micropayments greatly damages user preference, and increases their willingness to accept free material as a substitute.

Furthermore, the competitive edge of free content is increasing. In the 90s, as the threat the Web posed to traditional publishers became obvious, it was widely believed that people would still pay for filtering. As the sheer volume of free content increased, the thinking went, finding the good stuff, even if it was free, would be worth paying for because it would be so hard to find.

In fact, the good stuff is becoming easier to find as the size of the system grows, not harder, because collaborative filters like Google and Technorati rely on rich link structure to sort through links. So offering free content is not just an evolutionary stable strategy, it is a strategy that improves with time, because the more free content there is the greater the advantage it has over for-fee content.”

It will be interesting to see if Rafat Ali has a response.