A very good essay about the economics of "free" info on the internet
(Updated to fix bad link.)
The Atlantic -- which was early to the idea of making its content available free on the internet, then went to a subscriber-only model, and now has come back -- is one of many publications wrestling with the question of how, exactly, you sell something you are simultaneously giving away.
One of the best accounts I've seen of why our current approach might make sense -- and more generally, of why individuals and organizations may still be able to do well selling information they're also offering free -- is this one, from Kevin Kelly, on his "The Technium" blog. His analysis does ring true to me, and it clarifies some possibilities I've heard discussed mainly in hazy terms.
Everyone knows that the world demand for sophisticated, rapid, reliable information and analysis can only keep rising -- and everyone also knows that the traditional models of paying for such information are in trouble, with newspapers being the most obvious case. Ten years from now, or twenty, or some time, a new way of paying for the information will have evolved. I found this essay useful in pointing toward some potential paths of evolution.
(Thanks to Paul Holbrook, of the Zoot users' forum on Yahoo, for this tip.)