The pricing of online news
Starting in early 2011, visitors to the New York Times will get a certain number of articles free every month before being asked to pay a flat fee for access. NYT plans to take about a year of experiments to “get this really, really right.”
Neoclassical economists think that online news should be free to viewers since browsing incurs zero marginal cost for the website. Welfare economists consider online information positive externalities which may be subsidized by the government. Attention economists argue that viewers actually bring in benefits with their attention, as reflected by ads revenues.
For new institutional economists, Ronald Coase would say that, as long as the ownership rights are clearly demarcated, everything beneficial or detrimental to others could be priced just right, if the tractional cost is zero. For Steven Cheung, of course there will be “institutional cost” -- the term he prefers over “transactional cost” -- but he believes that smart “constrained maximizers” with lots of test-and-errors could reach appropriate contractual relationships, given circumstances, to minimize “rent dissipation.”
So it would be interesting to follow NYT’s experiments of this online news pricing.