“If the mobile internet turns into the general internet, then shame on us”

“If the mobile internet turns into the general internet, then shame on us” — says Motricity’s chief strategy and marketing officer, Jim Ryan, in an interview with MocoNews’ Tricia Duryee.

Yeah, I mean, shame on us if the mobile internet actually became something useful, enriching, ubiquitous and valuable, supporting a plethora of business models on an open platform where content providers and users have lots of choices of how do do things without lots of unnecessary barriers.

Basically, Ryan, who (of course) used to run AT&T’s data services, contends the web taught us “some bad habits”, in particular that ad-supported business models work, and that consumers shouldn’t be paying for more content. Ignoring for the moment that the cat’s already out of the bag, it’s a little disheartening to hear these comments at the end of 2009. They bring to mind the statement from 3 UK’s then-COO in 2004 that “Anyone in their right mind who tries to do anything on the Internet with a screen that size has to be nuts.”

Ryan then picks probably the worst possible way to try and support his argument: by using news as an example.

Ryan says they should be charging, especially on mobile where the service can be more personalized and tailored to a interests and habits. “People will be more than willing to pay,” he said. “I want to pay for a news service that will deliver the top 10-15 stories that matter to me the most. I want them to be researched and well-written. I will pay money for that.”

Maybe Jim will pay, but it’s doubtful many others will. Jeff Porter of Mobilepeople has a great piece at Mobile Marketer about Why paying for news content does not make sense that’s well worth a read. The first reason he lists is that “news is largely a commodity”. Ryan doesn’t seem to get this: this wonderful paid service he envisions is already one that’s provided for free by any number of content providers (Google News, Mippin, etc.).

The idea that “people will be more than willing to pay” is only correct in an environment of scarcity. But we’re past that point in the internet space, either wired or wireless. Any scarcity has to be contrived and manufactured, with things like walled gardens — which, of course, didn’t (and don’t) work. There’s always lots of talk about operators building a “smart pipe” that adds value to content, value for which the operators can expect some compensation. But it really sounds that the pipe dream for people like Ryan is simply to contrive an environment in which simply being accessible by end users is that value for which operators (or their vendors, like Motricity) should be compensated.

The idea that simply because something is available on mobile makes it worth paying for doesn’t hold. Availability on its own no longer creates value; again, in a world of ever-increasing abundance, as opposed to scarcity, this will not be the case (a lesson Garmin and TomTom learned recently when Google announced its navigation app).

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