Rupert Murdoch plans to allow free access to the Wall Street Journal's Web site, the Associated Press is reporting.
"We are studying it and we expect to make that free, and instead of having one million, having at least 10 million-15 million in every corner of the earth," Mr. Murdoch said, referring to The Journal's online readership.
While the decision may have been a foregone conclusion ever since the New York Times decided to shutter TimesSelect and enable online access to all the news it has ever printed, the announcement is still noteworthy. As long as the Internet has existed, it has progressively enabled easier and cheaper access to anything that can be digitally represented. Murdoch's impressively symbolic decision, given the Journal's status as an arch-chronicler of capitalism, is just one more piece of evidence that this tide will continue to roll.
Of course, we can still clog up all our available bandwidth worrying about how business models will evolve to compensate the creators of content -- whether it be top-notch financial reporting, or updates on the local city council meeting, whether it be pop music, or TV shows or movies. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal might be big enough or famous enough to get away with such a move. Will the San Francisco Chronicle? Time magazine?
No one owns the crystal ball that will answer that question. Some, like Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen, who recently posted a provocative analysis of the Writer's Guild strike arguing that the likely result of a drawn-out labor action will be a new era of flourishing independent content creators, are resolute pollyannas. Others, who see declining print newspaper circulation or the ambitions of Google to digitize and make accessible everything that's ever been written in any language anywhere as an omen that the end times are nigh, are more pessimistic.
But if you believe that somewhere down the line, good ideas will eventually drive out bad ones, even if you don't agree, at all, with the editorial biases of either the current ownership of the Wall Street Journal or Rupert Murdoch, then you have to believe that any time more walls restricting access to content are knocked down it is a fundamentally positive development.