By the end of this year, figure that about 20 percent of the U.S.’s 1,400-plus dailies will be charging for digital access. Gannett’s February announcement that it’s going paywall at all its 80 newspapers galvanized attention; when the third largest U.S. newspaper site, the Los Angeles Times, went paid (in March), more nodding was seen in publishers’ suites.
So if charging for digital access — a too long phrase, but one that’s most accurate than paywall — is neither a panacea nor a tombstone on the way to the inevitable, what is it? It’s a building block, and it’s a way to re-envision the business.
On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.
Update, Feb. 22, 2013: Massimo Pigliucci weighs in well on this issue.