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To Charge or Not to Charge ...

Joel Brinkley, a former foreign policy correspondent for the New York Times, had what he considered a revolutionary idea for floundering newspapers to regain their footing. In essence:

Now, here's my idea: The newspaper industry should ask the Justice Department for an antitrust exemption that would allow publishers to collaborate on a decision to begin charging for their Web sites. No paper would have to charge, and each paper could determine its own price. But if most papers in a region - San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose, for example - began charging for Web access at more or less the same time, many readers would likely subscribe.

Basically, Brinkley wants the Justice Department to allow the newspapers to practice a form of collusion so they can begin charging for original content. Collusion is required because unless almost all of the papers decide to get in, it would blow the pooch.

The problem with this thinking is that unless the entire world goes in on it, it just won't work. In fact, Brinkley's idea is really backward thinking - his old employer, the New York Times, had tried it and it didn't work. The Times Select concept was officially abandoned in September 2007 because paywalls only hurt business.

Newspapers would be better off thinking up ways to extract more out of their advertisers than the ol' pay-per-view route.