Contentville: Against Free Speeches

SAN FRANCISCO (07/07/2000) - Who says Web editorial should be free? Not the people who brought you Brill's Content, the self-styled "consumer guide for the information age." They're putting a whole new spin on peddling information over the Web with Contentville, a site where you must pay for speeches--not to mention books, electronic books, magazine subscriptions, dissertations, legal documents, and transcripts from television news shows. Contentville also hosts more than 100 columnists who will tell you what's worth reading.

Although the site has been up since July 5, it has not yet been officially announced. For that reason, Brill's Content did not cooperate with us during the preparation of this article.

No Such Thing As a Free Speech

Contentville charges for everying, including information that's readily available for free elsewhere on the Web. There's simply no good reason to pay $1.95 (the standard price for a speech) for the Gettysburg Address. On the other hand, if you're looking for a less well-known speech, that $1.95 could spare you a long and possibly fruitless Web search.

If you're looking for books, Contentville's prices are unexceptional. For instance, I found the hardcover version of Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls selling for $18.75 at Contentville and for $17.50 at Amazon (the paperback cost a bit less at Contentville). I didn't buy either, as I'd already picked up a used hardcover version at a local store for only $8.50.

As you would expect, you can search through the various items on Contentville by title, author, and keyword. Magazine articles are included in such searches as a category called Archives. You must pay $2.95 to read one of the magazine articles you find.

If you buy a subscription through Contentville, however, your first issue will arrive within days.

Editorial Content

One unique feature of Contentville is its high-level editorial recommendations.

Various "experts," ranging from artists and academics to journalists and booksellers, talk about what's worth reading in their areas of expertise.

Is there a conflict of interest here? Possibly. The columnists are, after all, paid by a retailer with an economic interest in selling products. On the other hand, many of the people involved have reputations to maintain and aren't likely to become shills. At this time, with very little commentary up, it's impossible to tell how open the site's editorial content will be.

Contentville is new, and still lacks a good deal. For instance, as I write this, Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech is missing.

Even when Contentville matures, it won't be the place to go for all your information needs. But it will be one more place worth checking.

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