Steve Outing has a smart piece in Editor & Publisher on why newspapers can’t charge for access to their Web sites. His arguments are familiar, but he’s pulled them together nicely. Three points he makes are especially worth thinking about:
1. Newspapers that attempt to charge for Web access are opening themselves up to local competition. Outing specifically mentions local television stations. But most large cities have an even more logical candidate: a news-oriented public radio station, such as Boston’s WBUR (90.9 FM).
2. Information does not want to be free. News Web sites may have lost the paid-content war, but there’s no reason news organizations can’t charge for other forms of digital delivery, such as cellphone applications, Kindle and the like.
3. It’s the community, not the content, that has real monetary value. Outing says he’s particularly interested to see what New York Times executive editor Bill Keller has in mind, as Keller is talking about various benefits that would accrue to those with NYTimes.com memberships.