The Internet… democratic and free. Well, almost, but for how long? Sure, we get in a huff when people threaten to charge us for things we have become used to getting for free, but ultimately, we will pay if given no other choice. We will.

MinnPost publishes an article by Gregory M. Lamb, of the Christian Science Monitor, exploring some of the recent efforts to shift into online payment plans.

Among the recent efforts:

  • Google now is experimenting with YouTube Rentals. The new service allows companies to charge users to view certain videos, such as TV shows or movies. Content originators can also try out different pricing schemes to see how they affect sales.
  • The Times of London, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., is about to erect a “pay wall,” requiring online readers to spend about $3 a week or $1.50 a day to read articles. To further fend off freeloaders, search engines such as Google will be banned from linking to The Times’s stories.
  • The New York Times announced plans to put most of its content behind what appears to be a fairly porous pay wall. The Times will ask for money only after a reader returns to the site a certain number of times per month. To lure in new readers, the paper says visitors who arrive via a search engine or other intermediary will always get a free pass.
  • The New Yorker magazine plans to offer a “one price pays for all” plan later this year, according to Advertising Age magazine. Subscribers would pay one fee and then be able to read the magazine in all its forms – print, Apple iPad, Amazon Kindle, possibly other e-readers – all for one price, rather than having to buy access to each separately.
  • Wired Magazine charges $4.99 to view an issue on the iPad tablet computer, the same as its newsstand price. The iPad version includes interactive features not available in print.
  • The free video website Hulu may soon begin charging viewers to see its popular content, such as TV episodes, and perhaps release Hulu software for the iPad and the Xbox 360 video-game system.

“Free distribution of premium content is like eating your babies. You will give value away until you go bust,” says a recent report from Group M, the media-buying agency of the international media and advertising giant WPP. The report calls people who use search engines to find news or information “useless tourists” who don’t pay their way and have little value, even to advertisers.

Others are less sure that the Inter¬≠net has hit a “time to pay up” moment. “I can make one prediction,” said Arianna Huf¬≠fing¬≠ton, founder of the popular Huffington Post website, at a recent panel discussion of the future of the news media. “Pay walls are not going to work.”

“Historically, consumers have not demonstrated a willingness to pay for electronic access to news,” writes Dave Morgan, a successful online entrepreneur and an expert on online advertising, in an e-mail interview. “It’s very hard to build paid subscription businesses in electronic news. There just aren’t many examples of success in creating stand-alone consumer-oriented digital news subscription businesses.”

Yet what worked for the Wall Street Journal was abandoned by the New York Times. And now we want out news in mobile apps. Are we willing to pay for the apps? Somewhat. But a subscription on top of that? Hmmm….