The profitability of papers in the late 20th century, when they had a monopoly of classified advertising, was an anomaly. Before that, newspaper barons owned them more to wield power than nurture democracy, while the 18th-century press was as partisan and rambunctious as any bunch of bloggers.

Nor are all papers equally threatened. Business papers, including the FT, have had more success in charging online readers than general-interest publications. Many publishers regret their rush to give everything away on the web but the over-supply of general news makes it hard to backtrack.

When people really want or need something, they will pay for it, one way or another. If today’s publishers cannot convince their readers to do so, they will be overtaken by others that can.