Free is the norm on the net. You expect to access just about everything for free and if someone tries to put up a paywall around their content most of us simply don't visit that site any more. At the same time we are acutely aware of the bombardment of advertising that accompanies most websites and some are so full it's hard to actually read the content. There's a lot of quality content out there that costs time money and professional expertise to produce and neither of the present models (free with ads or paywall) work very well. I'd be happy to pay for quality content if there was a flexible and painless way to do so. I'm not interested in paying a subscription to a newspaper when I only read a handful of its articles each month but I recognize that good journalism costs money.
A BBC article, Are the days of free content on the net numbered? questions whether the present advertising-driven free content model is sustainable. Signs are that revenues are falling and that news sites in particular will be unable to continue unless they can find a new revenue model. The answer would seem to be some kind of micropayment system where you are charged a tiny sum every time you read an article or watch a film on certain sites. Web content produced by individuals without commercial interest (blogs, wikis, hobby sites, clubs etc) will of course remain free but newspapers, TV sites and so on will get paid per click in a similar system to paying artists whose music is streamed via Spotify. If this means that serious journalism is available without paywalls or irritating advertising then I'm all for it. Otherwise we risk losing such media and our view of the world will be controlled by blatantly commercial media channels.
The article quotes web pioneer Robert Cailliau:
Mr Cailliau thinks that monthly subscriptions are too expensive and restrictive. He says the pay-as-you-go mobile phone model is a great one for online content.
"When you send an SMS, you pay a small amount of money. Each individual action should be billed individually," he says.
"My browser should pay you automatically a cent or two cents per page without me feeling it. I should not have to prepay a large amount of money."
"Why re-invent? The telephone already does that. We already have a worldwide system that's capable of billing the customer for every move he makes."
It isn't easy getting people to pay for something that has been free but maybe the model will be to pay a small flat rate to help pay for quality content but also for the right to avoid drowning in ads. If this helps to pay for serious journalism then it's worth trying.