Leslie forwards this post from marketing guru Seth Godin, who ruminates on the meaning of "free" in what he calls the attention economy. Though he's coming from a marketing perspective (uh, "the dark side"?), what he has to say applies to the j-biz as well:
In an attention economy (like this one), marketers struggle for attention and if you don't have it, you lose. Free is a relatively cheap way to get attention (both at the start and then through viral techniques).
Second, in a digital economy with lots of players and lower barriers to entry, it's quite natural that the price will be lowered until it meets the incremental cost of making one more unit. If a brand can gain share by charging less, a rational player will.
People will pay for content if it is so unique they can't get it anywhere else, so fast they benefit from getting it before anyone else, or so related to their tribe that paying for it brings them closer to other people. We'll always be willing to pay for souvenirs of news, as well, things to go on a shelf or badges of honor to share.
People will not pay for by-the-book rewrites of news that belongs to all of us. People will not pay for yesterday's news, driven to our house, delivered a day late, static, without connection or comments or relevance. Why should we? A good book review on Amazon is more reliable and easier to find than a paid-for professional review that used to run in your local newspaper, isn't it?
Like all dying industries, the old perfect businesses will whine, criticize, demonize and most of all, lobby for relief. It won't work. The big reason is simple:
In a world of free, everyone can play.