Actually, I think it is an economic problem as well. I think most of this
charging for content nonsense is an economic problem and will fail because
the people behind them do not understand the basic economics of the
information they are trying to sell.
Economics 101: Price charged to the consumer should equal the marginal
cost of the good (cost to make an additional unit of the good); also known
as P=MC. Yes? Good. A public good is a situation where a good is both
non-depletable and non-excludable. A good that is non-depletable and
non-excludable has a marginal cost of zero because it does not cost the
producer anything more to produce it for the marginal user. Therefore, the
price to the consumer should be zero, if there is economic efficiency
(brought about by competition).
So, in situations dealing with content on the internet (often, though not
always) you are dealing with these sorts of goods. Economically speaking,
the cost should be zero. So, Adam, your psychological reaction meshes with
your economic reaction.
The theory is, of course, a lot more complicated than that, and you can
look at it much more indepthly, but those are the basics. Now, the WSJ is
doing very well charging for their information. Why does that work? The
WSJ offers time-critical information to viewers who really can't get that
type of important information anywhere else. Thus, there is no real
competition to the Wall Street Journal's info, and therefore, they can make
it excludable, and charge a price and make money. The information that you
get out of Slate, and even the NYTimes isn't so time critical and important
that you can't get the important stuff elsewhere, and therefore, it feels
economically wrong to pay for it (as a consumer).
Oh well. Delving into the "dismal science". I apologize. Feel free to
attack this now. Or to ask for clarifications. Or, to add more to it. As
a theory, it's still got some kinks to be worked out.