The serious press has up to now been able to play an important role in democratic societies, thanks to an industrial model that combined two sources of income: advertising and payment by the readers. For many years this model supplied the economic solvency necessary to ensure the independence of the printed medium, to satisfy the growing news demands of an ever-more complex society, and to offer a product that was, in general, deserving of the public's trust. This model has broken down of late, due to a sharp drop in advertising - income from which has fallen by half since 2008 - the decline in newsstand sales caused by the crisis, and above all to the emergence of new technologies, which allow free access to content.
These new digital tools have given newspapers the largest readerships in history, yet do not yield sufficient income, because access is free of charge. Most of the media, in Spain as in other advanced countries, have implemented painful cutbacks in staff and strict plans to contain costs; but the persistent decline of income threatens their continuance in the short and medium term. In the face of this situation hundreds of dailies, including some newspapers of record, such as The New York Times , have begun to implement new forms of payment that make it possible for them to charge for access to the content of the digital edition. Most of these publications have opted for a model that allows free access to occasional readers, but demands the payment of modest fees for further reading once a website visitor has gone past a certain number of articles.
The change may be at odds with the habits fostered by the free-of-charge culture that has grown up on the internet. Easy access to huge amounts of information may give the average citizen the impression that information has no cost, and even that it has very little value. But this is not the case; quite the opposite in fact. Without quality information, democracy is crippled. The citizen has to know that independent, reliable information is now more expensive than ever, because it requires the work of professionals with a high level of knowledge, and an array of technical resources that are also expensive.
There can be no information without cost, and much less so when the information in question is to be of the highest quality. The economic contribution made by readers has always been a critical factor in the print media's independence from the government of the day, and its independence from advertisers as well. All these considerations are equally applicable to online media.