The Gentrification of Digital Content

June 22, 2010
Recently, the App Store purged 'adult themed apps' - citing that Apple does not condone adult material "finding its way into kids' hands." This isn't the first, or even the most notable instance, of Apple limiting content. The brand has had a somewhat contentious feud with Adobe and developers alike over its ban on Flash. The move sparked all kinds of backlash from open-source devotees who argue that the ban erodes the egalitarian nature of the web. Ultimately, the App Store is a privately owned, specialized network that can determine its own standards for content. Specialized networks like the App Store and Android Market have stratified digital media by creating a premium market. For a little extra cash, one can opt-in to a digital universe free of porn bots and buggy software. Some subscriptions even offer ad-free content. This walled marketplace has prompted some to refer to this new trend as the 'gentrification of the internet.' Gentrification can also come in the form of pay walls or price points. A recent TVNewsCheck article by Andrew Venacore describes how the iPad commands a higher premium for ads than the internet. Venacore offers several reasons for this trend: higher levels of engagement for rich media iPad ads, niche audiences and the lack of a rigidly defined demand economy given the absence (for now) of huge ad networks like Google AdWords. Digital gentrification can empower consumers and publishers - offering pricier CPM's to publishers, and more creative, well-targeted ads to consumers. This means you are less likely to get annoyed by silly "find-your-high-school-best-friend" banners and more likely to see super cool rich media ads like the ones in the June issue of Wired. Instead of duking it out with smaller advertisers who erode consumer attention by creating inferior ads, advertisers can more strategically position themselves within the walled off world of premium apps. That last bit has some negative implications for consumers and open source advocates. As Venacore points out, this new model gives publishers an incentive to publish some content exclusively on their apps. However, this type of digital gentrification ultimately provides a greater net benefit for the discerning consumer and free alternatives mean that people who aren't willing to pay still have access to most digital content.