Yes "free" has been out there, so why the change in tack: advertising revenues are under severe recessionary pressures.
This is from Measurement Matters: "How Do You Escape From Free"
A recent study of around 5,000 people in the US and Europe showed that readers were not adverse to paying for online content. Consumers would be willing to pay for coverage they where particularly interested in such as business and sport, provided there were no free online products of equal quality on the market.
And there’s the caveat – provided there were no free alternatives. On the internet there is always a free alternative, and that free alternative is only a click away. And when it comes to Free!, quality may not be as strong a differentiator as you might think. Look at the success of Metro, London Lite the London Paper compared to the “quality” paid for alternative, the Evening Standard. The Standard is under such attack that it is responding with a risky poster campaign ‘apologising’ for being out of touch with its readers.
Recently the Harvard Business School investigated the Guardian newspaper - as an example of journalism enabled, to an extent, by the "Trust" that sits above it. This is a big discussion: but as increasing numbers of creative industries are badly hurt by the "free" there is - obviously - the question of new business models (and the Can Spotify work? meme) and perhaps the debate about the philanthropic/governmental investment required to support our creative industries - from music and film through computer games, publishing (and academic publishing) and news itself.