Writing on the NY Times' op-ed page, Michael Kinsley's article, You Can’t Sell News by the Slice, makes an interesting point about the economics of traditional newspapers:
Newspaper readers have never paid for the content (words and photos). What they have paid for is the paper that content is printed on. A week of The Washington Post weighs about eight pounds and costs $1.81 for new subscribers, home-delivered. With newsprint (that’s the paper, not the ink) costing around $750 a metric ton, or 34 cents a pound, Post subscribers are getting almost a dollar’s worth of paper free every week — not to mention the ink, the delivery, etc. The Times is more svelte and more expensive. It might even have a viable business model if it could sell the paper with nothing written on it.In Time Magazine, Walter Isaacson wrote a couple of articles, including "How to Save Your Newspaper,"which discussed micropayments at length. Micropayments have worked with music, he notes, then offers a suggestion of how it might work for newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc.
But there's a difference between paying for music you download and paying for articles you download: you generally want to listen to music again and again -- but how many times can you re-read a newspaper article? Like it or not, often refered to as the first draft of history, journalism is disposable, generally having a short shelflife. Music does not. I can justify paying for music downloads (though I often prefer to have the CD as a backup in case of a technical snafu with my iPod), but it might be difficult to justify paying each time I rent an article -- because I usually don't need to read them again (unless for work).
That, anyway, is a hurdle content owners need to overcome.