The advantages and disadvantages of producing content that is freely available online.

As technology and resources grow so does the amount of content being produced. There are now numerous articles, journals, films, music, artwork, and so much more, being created every day that are easily accessed online.

This info-graphic demonstrates just how much data is generated every minute:

data never sleeps

However, a study by Simon-Kutcher & Partners, a global pricing community, has found that 90% of online content is likely to be held behind a pay wall in the next three years. This could mean the end of free content that seamlessly integrates our online culture. The Telegraph and The Sun have already announced their plans to introduce access payment to their online articles.

Currently we take open content for granted. How many times do you turn to google to find a resolution to a problem in an average week? Or search The Independent online to find out the latest current affairs? I know I’m constantly scrolling through Marketing Week Online to discover the new marketing trends and share them on Twitter with my followers. What would happen if this freedom was to turn into a cost? Being a student myself I doubt I would pay for the service.

There are many advantages to having freely available material online. Like I’ve mentioned before, search engines are powerful tools and we all benefit from the vast information that they provide. The free articles and journals reach larger, global audiences creating maximum visibility and impact. These materials generate traffic which is the heart of any international business because it means their work and brand will come up in search results and be shared or displayed on other websites. In educational terms, it’s a great way to accelerate discovery and researchers can build on previous studies with out any restrictions. They will also be quoted and used in further research.

Furthermore, many scientific or medical research studies are paid for with public funds so shouldn’t tax payers have a right to see the results they find? Free materials would also improve education because students have access to the latest data. Dr Sugata Mitra believes ‘if kids had access to the internet they would essentially educate themselves’ and I strongly believe this is true. I always turn to the internet to tackle a task.

The disadvantages of producing free content includes the lack of initial payment to publishers and the high status and the trust of reliability they fear of losing due to the lack of academic review by publishers, journals and third parties, all which aren’t required when posting free material. Publishers also worry about who is accessing their work, they don’t want their materials misquoted or falsely represented.

The information we see also comes at a cost. The need for strong, skilled content producers is at a high and brands want to maintain their reputations so many will only invest in worthwhile creators. Therefore, to make a return on their investments should they have a right to charge? Many online materials can be supported through sponsorship, advertising, voluntary labour, subscriptions, etc. so there are other methods to make money back.

If we look at the market place today we can still see big producers creating content and sharing it online with out a charge. This is because they are finding innovative and clever ways to still create a profit. Take the news industry for example, many articles are available to read online freely but they use advertising, PR, sponsorships and so much more to create a ROI.

Information is important to our society and the free flow of information worldwide is a highly important factor. The more content we have to play with, the more we can grow our minds and progress whilst living in the digital world.


Brown, A. (2012). Open access: why academic publishers still add value. Available: Last accessed 3rd April 2014.

Lepitak, S. (2013). 90% of online content to be held behind paywalls in three years media company survey suggests. Available: Last accessed 3rd April 2014.

Tepper, A. (2012). How Much Data Is Created Every Minute? [INFOGRAPHIC]. Available: Last accessed 3rd April 2014.


19 thoughts on “The advantages and disadvantages of producing content that is freely available online.

  1. Hi Laura,
    I hope you do alright. I’ve read your post and it was quite interesting and enjoyable. Honestly, I just I’m a big fan of statistics represented in graffiti/picture way, so called “infographics”. I might use your picture in the Reflective summary if it is ok, of course with a reference to your post. As a web developer, the number of created websites a minute, 571, just frightens me, as I know how much time and effort does a single one require.
    I have to agree with one of the references you have provided, Dr Sugata Mitra, who said that “if kids had access to the internet they would essentially educate themselves”. However, when I read this, I inevitably start to remember my 13 years old cousin who does nothing but playing online games when he is on the Internet. What do you personally think about it? Do the children need someone to lead them through the oceans and clouds of data online?
    You have mentioned a good example of disadvantages of the open access in relation to the public authors. However, do you think that there are any disadvantgaes of the open access in relation to us, everyday users?
    Thanks in advance,

    Best Regards, Eldar.

    • Hi Eldar!

      Thank you for your comment. I’m glad you like the infographic and of course, you are welcome to use it in your reflective summary! I am also a big fan of statistics and thought this demonstrated just how much information is created online every minute really well. I can see how this frightens you, it must be difficult game for web developers when there is so much competition.

      I agree, I think children need guidance. Many children, like your cousin, want to use the internet for recreational purposes such as playing games, listening to music, socialising with friends, but they need instruction so they don’t download or emerge themselves in harmful or inappropriate content. I do believe that as humans we learn through doing and therefore, if we have the resources, such as the internet, we will learn from using it. We may encounter a few mistakes and problems along the way but essentially we are always making progress. Your cousin may not be using the internet to find educational articles or to search for the latest news but he is taking advantage of the online games it offers and possibly is gaining skills from these games that could help him in the future.

      Yes, I think there are a few disadvantages. The main one being reliability and validity. Personally I feel that if anyone can publish an article then which of us everyday users should we trust? There’s so much information available but which parts of it are correct? I know one of my friends decided to write a fitness blog a few months ago. The content he was publishing was incorrect and if followed would cause people more damage than improved fitness.

      Thank you for your comment, Laura 🙂

      • Hi there,

        Yeah, do agree with you to some extend. I hope my cousin will be alright to some point and realizes one day the actual power of the Internet.
        Yes, actually a very good point. I think I have mentioned it in my post as well, if not I will add it to my reflective summary and reference to you. I do remember myself doing Networking module and finding different resources, one naming a specific system ASP, and another one ISP… it took me a while to find out a proper resource on which I could reference late on.

        So far so good 🙂 Thank you very much for your reply.
        Hope to see your posts even after the module finishes 🙂

  2. Hi, your blog makes for a really interesting read and the structure flows very well. The inclusion of the infographic is a very useful, visual orientated way of representing the rapidity and vast quantity of content uploaded to the Internet each minute. It is really quite alarming and unfathomable.

    Moreover, I think you make a very good point regarding how public funds are used in scientific and medical research, and therefore, consequently the tax payer should be able to view the results. It is something that would benefit from being explored in more depth, as I personally do not know the intricate details or proportion of public funds used in such studies.

    You’ve quoted Dr Sugata Mitra who believes that ‘if kids had access to the internet they would essentially educate themselves’, I also, to some extent agree with this. Being able to access educational online content for free is imperative to enabling individuals to learn and inform themselves. Demand for online higher education is at record levels, and this is largely owing to the financial benefits. Do you think open access is important from a perspective of reducing inequality in education?

    • Hi Alysia!

      Thank you for your feedback 🙂 I agree with you – more details need to be known about how the tax payer or public funds are paying for such research studies. Before I started researching for this topic, it was the last thought in my mind but thinking about it more thoroughly we should know what our money is going towards.

      Yes, from a perspective of reducing inequality in education everyone should have a right to online information to help them deepen their pools of knowledge. The problem is that many people world wide still don’t have access to the internet, let alone access to online articles. Cristian has a video on his blog that includes Mark Zuckerburg’s plan to make the internet affordable to anyone. This is the link and worth a watch:

      I still believe there are a number of issues that crop up when we say we want all information to be made freely available. Everything comes at a cost so somewhere along the line someone has to pay for it.

      Thanks for your comment! Laura 🙂

  3. Hi Laura,

    It was a really nice pleasure to read your post. Of course, there is something special with every post your make (freely) available on the internet. I find your article that is best describing the pros and cons for this topic. You have addressed a wide range of concepts from personal advantages to business cons, combining personal experience as in a story.

    You have discussed the subject of search engines. I agree with you that this online services are a great tool for the modern person. Everyday, there could be a problem which our friend called Google can solve. But let’s think for a second: these services are alive and they work with the content from the web. Fresh content. If a big website such as Guardian restricts access to the articles, it does not provide fresh content for the search engines. Thus, they will have no websites to show in order to direct readers to these. Indeed, the change will be felt in a long run, but they can face up with a traffic problem, which as you said correctly it is the core of the online business. What do you think regarding this ?

    Thank you again for the article,
    Your mate,
    Cristian Sima

    • Hi Cristian!

      Thanks for the comment, I’m glad you enjoyed my post!

      You make a very interesting point. I think because news online websites are only restricting access to loyal customers, (i.e. only giving you access to five articles in a day), they won’t see traffic decrease significantly. However, if they were to impose paywalls for any access at all then they definitely would be putting themselves at a disadvantage. The Times found this back in 2010:

      Thanks again,

  4. Hey Laura,
    The info graphic that you’ve used has some really interesting facts. My interpretation of it in relation to this topic is that it shows the extent of how far information can spread. Therefore if all content was open access, it could have an incredibly wide audience. This probably being the main benefit to open access content as long as the producer was credited for their work.
    The fact that we don’t notice that we are using free content is definitely something that needs to be made aware of, but how would we implement awareness schemes?
    I agree with your point about search engines. I rely heavily on search engines for research, making use of Google and Google Scholar. Without these I probably wouldn’t know where to begin looking for material to use to do my academic work!
    With the fast pace change of the internet nowadays, I think It would be beneficial for more content to be open access, however the debate doesn’t just apply to journal papers. What would be your opinion on open access for artistic materials such as graphics and images that are found online?
    Your blog was really interesting and well written! Thanks!


    • Hi Emma,

      Thank you for your comment, was great to read! I agree, it’s amazing how much content is being generated every minute, every day, every week, and yet, we only see a glimpse of what manages to spread and be filtered through the millions!
      That’s a great point. I guess people don’t realise what they have until it’s gone! Being a marketing student, I have noticed the biggest awareness trends of today have been in social media. This would probably be an effective channel to grasp people’s attention and raise awareness of what is to come by maybe using a hashtag such as #freeourcontent or something!
      I think it is ultimately up to the creator of these artistic materials and what they want to gain from their work. Some creators want to earn money, some just want publicity and recognition. If I were a skilled graphic designer I think I would definitely weigh up the pros and cons before making my work freely available. I do think they same arguments apply and the creators can find alternative and innovative ways to make money through or to fund their work, but it always comes down to the individual. However, I’ve used an infographic in my blog post so I’m glad that many still make their work freely available!

      Thank you again for the comment,
      Laura 🙂

  5. Hey Laura, great post about open-access online!

    What I like about this module is that almost every topic we have we have so many different answers and thoughts about them.

    Great illustrative image! – Thinking of how difficult it is finding that funny video from your newsfeed again after a while, and then thinking all that other content on there are things your friends recently posted – then imagining how much content being generated from the whole world. As it’s being said, it’s always 5 o’clock somewhere.

    Actually, I think some newspapers already started with this. I remember in ‘Organizations in context’ when searching for articles for class and the essays how annoying it was finding some really interesting articles and then find out you can only read the introduction and the title without subscription. I understand how they actually need to earn money on their activities in order to be able to keep doing it, but surely they must get enough from advertising etc. Although it could be an attempt getting more paper versions of the newspaper sold when you have to pay for it anyways, who knows?

    At the same time as the Internet is a really effective way of finding information and learning things, I believe it has also made us somewhat lazier. Such as in primary school we actually learned a lot from reading books and discussing, and if we use the internet to find quick solution, the knowledge might not stick for a long time. But it is a good thing to have access and options.

    Really good point about the tax paying and how the taxpayers should be able to get the advantages from what they actually are paying for. Even though content creators hide their work behind a pay-wall, anyone with the willingness to pay can as easily misquote and re-use the content, so I don’t see the issues of it being freely accessible (except the recognition and financial reasons of hiding it behind a pay-wall).

    I liked your summary/conclusion – and I totally agree. We do need a constant flow of information in order to keep up to date and get information fast in order to survive in this digital world we live in. I really enjoyed your post and you had some good arguments and thoughts on the topic, well done! (Oh, and sorry for the long comment, haha.)

    Best wishes,

    • Hi Kaya,

      Thank you for the lovely comment, you really thought about your reply – it’s great to read!

      I see what you are saying about online newspapers but maybe the advertising just isn’t enough? Or maybe the market is so competitive nowadays that they have to implement these costs to stay on top of their competitors. I don’t particularly know much about this industry but there must be reasons why they are putting up paywalls!

      Great point – I think it ultimately depends on the learner. I know that I will learn much more if I go out and find the information myself, however, my brother was always different to me and he would benefit by learning with others, and like you suggested, learning together in a class room.

      I agree, anyone could misquote an article and maybe some people will go that extra mile to pay for it as well!

      Thanks again Kaya!
      Laura 🙂

  6. Hey Laura,

    As usual the post flows well and makes for a good read, the personal input also makes it more interesting rather than a more static list of facts and you make some really good points. The idea of alternative revenue streams to cover the cost of research and keep it open access is a really good one and shows your roots in marketing! The infographic is also a great way for getting the scale of data produced across without loads of text -though a minor point I think it could do with being cropped to remove the top and bottom bits which are too small to read as it takes away from the main body of the image a little.

    With reference to where you discuss that many scientific research is funded publically, in my own blog post I mention a study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showing two thirds of research and development carried out in scientific and technical fields is carried out by private industries -only 10% originates from government. I put forward the idea that perhaps industry doesn’t have the same ‘moral’ pressures related to funding which are often mentioned when referring to why publically funded research should be made public.
    Do you think privately funded research has less pressure to be made freely available than publically funded research?

    Sam 🙂

      • Hi Sam!

        Thank you for the lovely comment! I saw on twitter that you weren’t feeling too well last week, I hope you’re feeling much better now!

        Yes I agree with you – I should’ve cut the top bits out before I made everyone strain their eyes to see what it has to say haha!

        The statistics and research you have found are really interesting. I think you are right and there is more of a social pressure towards the public funded research to be made available to the public. I do believe if we are putting our taxes into academic work, then we should have the rights to view it if we want to, unless there is a good reason not to. Privately funded research is paid for by specific industries and businesses and therefore the rights to the work belong to them. It’s a highly competitive world we live in and I can see why some companies would want to keep their work only accessible to a few. However, surely if competitors wanted to know company secrets they would just pay for the work. To conclude, yes I think there is less pressure on privately funded research because the work is theirs and they have the rights to distribute it as they wish. However, personally, as a student myself, appreciate it when private journalists make their work freely available and find alternative ways to fund their work.

        Thanks for the comment and the link, always a pleasure to read!

        Laura 🙂

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