It’s always possible (although highly unlikely, I think) that online newspaper will be able to return to the walled garden and start charging for access to “their” information. It may even be possible that Google, Yahoo and the other aggregators and search folk will have to start ponying up something.

Read the comments on any post about the future of newspapers, and the issue of paying for it, particularly the issue of (1) Google and (2) readers paying for it, comes up again and again. Often it’s presented as the only way to save newspapers and journalism.

I have some questions about that, genuine questions that I don’t really have answers for, although I have my suspicions and prejudices.

If folks who gather links have a responsibility to pay the original source for even transitory use of their stuff, does that mean that news sites that link out should be paying, too? If a news site bootstraps the power of the link to enhance and extend its reporting, shouldn’t it, too, be paying for that?

If we are talking about paying for items of value, doesn’t the logic dictate that news sites should also be paying for the reader submissions they so eagerly solicit, display and sell ads around?

What is the model for paying for news? Buying a newspaper used to mean getting both information that you couldn’t get elsewhere and information that you could get elsewhere but not in as convenient a bundle. Newspapers may still have information you can’t get elsewhere (although not nearly as much), but hasn’t the value of the bundle seriously declined? With limited only-found-here stuff, how does a single news site establish a subscription fee? (Sorry, but even I know enough economics to know that a micropayment system is chancy because of the inability to make long-term plans based on guesses about what will earn money.)

An adjunct to that: do most newspaper carry enough value to convince enough people to pay for their content?

(Note: Please, if you’re responding to this, resist the urge to make the serendipity argument. The internet is one big serendipity machine.)

If newspaper web sites, from the beginning, had charged for access, what are the changes that by now they would be facing a significant number of competitors who were offering similar (or the same) coverage for free? Because online ad rates rely in no small part on views, which is the better model — walled or open?

There are a lot of other questions I have. And that indicates to me that a lot of the debate over who pays has been too shallow to be of much use to me.

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