If payment becomes the norm for online news and content sites - and the idea is getting up a head of steam - I wonder if they will have to grapple with the question of piracy. Will opportunistic blogs, for example, start lifting articles wholesale and reproducing them? Might pirated versions of newspapers start to spring up? My suspicion is that they will.
Today there is a report that online music piracy has fallen dramatically; the reasons for this being not the music industry's hamfisted attempts to criminalise its customers but the emergence of alternatives that are more palatable to music consumers - in particular Spotify. Basically, why bother going through the hassle of downloading pirated music, when you can get what you want for nothing? This has been accompanied by a shift in attitudes to music ownership, which may be generational. Personally, I like to own stuff, to have the physical CD in my hand - or at least the MP3s on my computer. Spotify to me is a nice adjunct to that. Hardcore Spotify users, it seems, may be happy to know that the music is out there somewhere and that they can access it whenever they want. Which makes sense, especially for as long as the service is free.
So instead of music being sold as a high-priced, fetishised experience, involving the physical possession of an expensive object, it's become rather commoditised - something that's out there, to be tapped into as ad when you want it, at little or no cost. The profit centre of the music industry is live performance and merchandise. Recorded music is a loss leader. The industry, and record companies in particular, are having to adapt to this new reality.
What does this mean for newspapers? I suspect they will face a battle to shore up their porous paywalls in the face of piracy. Direct charging for content will, for many of them simply be a troubled step along the road to a completely different model of monetisation, which will change the shape of the industry.