The controversy over whether people will pay for content online is a vexed question internationally. Here in the UK we've heard much about News Corp/News International owner Rupert Murdoch and his plans to charge for archived material. We now have a small local newspaper poised to charge people to read its wares.
As a jobbing journalist I think we're going to go through some painful times. The arguments are simple: on the one hand, people are accustomed to getting their daily newspaper or whatever free on the Internet. For the most part, bar the odd demand for unpaid membership (Financial Times in London I'm talking about you) there's no need to pay for anything you want to read if it's on your computer.
This is great for the reader or researcher and of course I use it myself. And because it's ingrained in my culture, I think nothing of paying for a physical newspaper when I could be getting the same thing free online. This is where the other side of the equation springs into life, of course. It goes: you thought this should be free why, exactly..? And then I turn it round from my point of view of the reader to my opinion as a writer and creator of this content: if people aren't prepared for it then can I justify charging for it? Well, given that I value my time and it's taken 20 years' experience to enable me to write this stuff, there's an easy answer to that one.
I suppose the real issue is going to be whether the publishing industry is going to be able to persuade people they ought to be paying for what they read. They've done so for centuries, the argument will run, so why do they suddenly expect it for nothing? The answer is of course that the same publishing industry itself has led them to expect this by precedent. For almost a decade we've been invited to browse what we like free of any charge.
It's not sustainable. It has to stop. But just how the publishers are going to unpick this particular web of their own making without looking like killjoys or bad guys is a problem to which there is no obvious answer.