IS NEWS free? It is an interesting question and one that is being debated increasingly across the newspaper industry at the moment.

A growing number of newspaper companies are taking the decision to charge readers for access to their websites, particularly in America.

In this country The Times and The Sunday Times have been charging for their websites for some time, The Sun will be following suit later this year, and The Daily Telegraph is to go down a similar route.

Not all companies are doing so and not all those who are charging are using the same methods.

Some are charging for all website access, some are allowing readers a certain number of stories free before charges kick in.

I would be interested to hear the views of our readers on this issue.

There is no doubt in my mind that the current business model for newspapers, like the Argus, that allow free access to the bulk of their editorial content online is unsustainable in the long term.

How can we continue to charge readers for a printed copy of our newspaper but allow them to read much of its content for free online?

There is, of course, a counterargument that says news is free because online consumers expect it to be so.

But is it? There is a cost to producing news. Therefore it must have a value.

That is basic economics.

If you spend money on producing something – whether that be news or nuts and bolts – and if there is a demand for it then it should have a price.

Some will say that if newspapers charge for access to their websites, readers will go elsewhere for their news. But is that really the case?

I would suggest that argument applies to many national newspapers but not to local and regional ones.

Who else produces local news about the area covered by the Argus? Who else produces what the Swansea Evening Post does, or the Wrexham Evening Leader?

At some point in the not-too-distant future I believe all newspapers will charge for access to their websites.

The acid test then will be how many people who currently read the Argus site, for instance, would be willing to pay to continue doing so.

What do you think? Would you pay to read the news online? And if not, why not?

Let me know. You can write to me by post or e-mail in the usual way or leave a comment on our website.

I look forward to hearing your views.

Robust debate is a healthy sign

THERE was a substantial reaction online to my column last week. As always, I’m grateful for all of the feedback – even the bits with which I fundamentally disagree.

There were a few who, quite obviously, hadn’t bothered to read beyond the first paragraph of last week’s piece about the reaction to Margaret Thatcher’s death.

By and large, however, there was a robust debate between those who agreed with the sentiments of last week’s column and those who did not.

That is how it should be in a democracy and long may it continue.