The New York Times today reports on movement by beleaguered publishers to begin charging for content on the Internet.

Will consumers pay for material that once was free? Time will tell. The article notes one problem:

Leaner, newer online competitors will continue to be free, avidly picking up the users lost by sites that begin to charge.

The Arkansas leader in paid content is noted:

A small number of publications already charge for Internet access, including The Wall Street Journal, The Financial Times, Newsday, Consumer Reports and The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. But they tend to be either specialty products or near-monopolies in local markets, and they generally do not charge enough to fundamentally alter their profit pictures.

But for most general-interest news, any paid site would be competing with alternative versions of the same articles, delivered by multiple free news sources.

“One of the problems is newspapers fired so many journalists and turned them loose to start so many blogs,” Mr. Mutter said. “They should have executed them. They wouldn’t have had competition. But they foolishly let them out alive.”

But … the “near-monopolies” of local news markets aren’t nearly the monopolies of the digital world that they are in the print world. And their digital speed, flexibility and reach are restrained by the desire to protect the (declining value of) their print monopoly.