Timothy B Lee thinks the moralism surrounding paywalls obscures the basic point:
In economic terms, what’s happening is that I’m giving you somethinga copy of this postwhose marginal cost to me is basically zero. You’re giving me somethingyour timethat is far more scarce and valuable. Since I’m getting the better end of the deal, I need to work hard to make sure you’re getting enough value out of the deal to entice you back in the future.
So I find it pretty rich when a site thinks it’s doing me a favor by letting me read its content. To be sure, the New York Times is a great website. But there is far more free, good content on the web than I could possibly find time to read. My RSS reader is full of smart bloggers I wish I had time to read. So the Times should be grateful for the time I devote to their website rather than one of the many alternatives.
In related punditry, Felix Salmon explains how the payfence might make economic sense. I hope it works myself. I see no reason why a site like the NYT shouldn't in effect ask for support from its most loyal readers, while giving itself away to others largely for free. And a payfence is a little less humiliating than a pledge drive.