What Newspapers Can Learn From HBO's 'Game of Thrones'

As the Boston Globe has seen, readers may like info to be free, but will pay for exactly what they want.

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Meanwhile, the New York Times' paywall has attracted a steadily growing base of paying subscribers. Gannett, which publishes more than 80 newspapers, is following suit, having announced that it will also start charging for online content, though the paywall will not apply to USA Today, also a Gannett paper.

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But an explosion of paid subscribers seems far less likely than a slower shift of readers from unpaid to paid content, as newspapers wait for consumer expectations to change—a cultural shift that could be slow in coming.

Rosenstiel again points to television. "TV for most Americans is not free anymore. And it's very foreseeable—it's plausible, at least, that that could happen in newspapers."

Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter at @titonka or via E-mail at dkurtzleben@usnews.com.