As you browse FT.com, you have a small status bar at the bottom of your screen, akin to the "life bar" in first-person shooter games that shows you how healthy or injured your character is. In this case, the status bar shows you how many free page views you have left.
If you want to exceed your quota but you don't want to pay, there are other ways. In video games, you can usually replenish your life bar by collecting floating gold coins or stars or mushrooms or what have you; why not do the same on a newspaper site? Scatter them about randomly so that readers are rewarded for exploring different sections of the site, reading to the end of stories, etc. And extra free page views could be only one of the rewards. Readers who compile enough coins/stars/mushrooms could win all sorts of goodies: Free admission to FT conferences, lunch with an FT writer, and so on. (Or maybe this isn't such a good idea, given the evidence that performance-based rewards undermine intrinsic motivation.) Meanwhile, those wet blankets who don't want to play always have the option of handing over their credit card numbers.
Now, while this has it's upsides and downsides and is certainly fraught with challenges, it is an interesting thought process. What if in order to obtain additional time on the site, in lieu of cash we offered then the opportunity to circumvent the cash option by obtaining additional information such as addresses, e-mail addresses, permission to send e-offers, marketing information and so forth which can be monetized in other ways? What if readers were given credits for each story they read allowing them to read more? Those are pretty traditional ideas and thinking, but let's take it to the next level.
In order to get to the crux of the problem we must realize that our ultimate online goal is to gain results for our advertisers; thus how do we do that? What if we offered incentives to our readers for clicking on and purchasing items from our advertisers on the sites, I.E., someone takes advantage of a downloadable coupon shown on our site and that counts as credit towards further site usage. Better yet, why not figure out a way in which we reward our readers for producing results for our advertisers. In other words, we let them know that our site is paid for by the local advertisers and when you purchase gift certificates from any of our advertisers advertising on the site via the site, that is the same as paying to use the site and you receive site credit for that purchase.
The key to this however would be to have advertisers offering gift certificates for items such as food, gas and so forth that everyone needs anyway. This will seem less demanding and most will assume it is a small price to pay and they have to pay it anyway. On the flip side, forcing site visitors to buy a car in order to utilize the site won't work real well, however if someone does buy a car, they should certainly be rewarded with a lifetime site pass for doing so.
Certainly not perfect and I'm sure many have had thoughts similar to these. The bottom-line is simple, we need to figure out ways to better monetize the online venue. The current push to sale banners, video and so forth is certainly important, but it is really only a means to an end. Fact is that even if we controlled 50% of all the online ad spending in our markets, we're still up a creek without a new angle to this problem of survival.
The world is certainly moving rapidly towards the digital age, print while a player in the game is becoming less so and this trend will no doubt continue. I do believe that print has a life cycle left, only that life cycle is far different than what we currently tend to hold on to.