The backwards economic model of news agencies

Cory Doctorow has a very interesting piece up today.

Why do newspapers charge for yesterday’s news?

The problem with the NYT’s system is that it ensures that the Times can’t be the paper of record any longer, because even if a thousand bloggers point to a great article on the day it comes out, thirty days later it will be invisible to the 99.999 percent of the Web who won’t pay for access to fishwrap, no matter how interesting.

Doctorow proposes that newspapers offer their archives for free and charge for today’s news.

It’s a great idea. The only way it’s going to happen, though, is either for one agency to do it first and show great success, or for many agencies to all agree to do it at once. I can easily see them all having cold feet about completely reversing their model.

They shouldn’t, though. The web is moving to a pay-per-service model, I believe. People are more than willing to pay for things they enjoy, such as webcomics.

The one big ethical dilemma I see here is that news is a very different commodity from entertainment. For all intents and purposes, people need to read the news. How, then, can we justify charging for it?

Of course, to that question there is always the answer: Well, we charge people for food, don’t we?