It has been seen above that the development of free markets for information products gives rise to a migration of value towards the generation of demand, an activity with decreasing returns. The Internet allows the implementation of precisely this type of procedure, which aims to monitor the conversion of general needs into strong impulses for specific products and services.
The Internet economic model, therefore, appears paradoxical and unbalanced only because it is, as yet, incomplete. Strictly speaking, there is no Web economy - the Web’s services are currently forging the tools of tomorrow’s economy.
Provision of such tools requires heavy investment which, for the time being, at least, is financed partially according to other models:
the mass-media model, i.e. the sale of an audience to advertisers: on the Internet, new forms of advertising, which are richer and more interactive than those of conventional media (press, TV, etc.) currently represent the major part of the revenues of large web sites;
the e-commerce model: in the case of certain products, printed catalogues may advantageously be replaced by catalogues which can be consulted on line. The placing of orders and payment may also take place on line.
What currently exists on the Internet is only a transitory phase foreshadowing the “production of demand” model which will be characterized specifically by:
the provision of free services. An Internet site offers users useful services, such as a search engine, data, news, e-mail, a host space, etc. with a view to gaining loyal and regular customers;
the creation of nominative or statistical customer databases providing accurate profiles of each type of consumer and, if possible, of each individual customer; this can be achieved either by asking people to fill in on-line forms or by following the customers from session to session if they accept the cookies21 sent to them (or if they are unaware that their browser accepts them, etc.);
the organization of these customer bases into communities led by leaders originating from the community itself. This is an essential phase in that the transition from need to desire is a collective process, consisting in invention but even more in imitation and fashion;
the setting-up of the means whereby customers can become involved in the actual production of the products. This futurist model can currently be seen in assisting in the creation of Web pages and the organization of the collective production of freewares.
Currently, Web site managers are investing vast sums of money typically, each year they lose half their turnover despite their relying on the mass media model and, more recently, the e-commerce model. Nevertheless, their stock-market valuation, which might appear to be excessive, can undoubtedly be explained by taking into account the customer-base capital they represent, which will soon make them essential intermediaries between producers and consumers. In such an economy, the loyal customer having agreed to give information about himself, the faithful customer, interested in being part of a community, is the essential resource. Links between sites form the currency exchanged between players, and the graph of such relationships describes the new industrial fabric.