I think we will eventually arrive at some kind of micro payment/advertising business model for online media in the not too distant future. Ideally there will be a common payment system on the device I use to access media or some kind of accepted everywhere pass. Either way it only works if the transactions are in the background.
The subscription model for Newspapers and Magazines that I’d like to see would allow me access to all the headlines and blurbs for each story but limit the number of full stories I can see/read each month/week depending on how much I’ve paid.
The cost for these subscription models is critical. I would read 1 story a month from 10 or 20 magazines and several stories a day from a couple different newspapers but not if it costs hundreds of dollars (based on current subscription prices). I think there could easily be ways to lower the subscription cost if I agree to watch and interact with special advertising or allow cookies to be set on my browser so the advertisers can follow me around and gather data. I can also envision a 2 year multiple magazine/newspaper subscription model where just like cell phone companies the media reader is free or significantly discounted.
One concept that publishers will struggle with is how efficient blogs and social networking are at distributing stories and bringing in new readers, because once you put a pay wall up that will end. The key to this is realizing that hits are worthless and loyal readers are valuable. I think there’s a way to allow your paid subscribers the ability to distribute full stories to their friends/audience along with embedded advertising and a pitch to subscribe. This kind of sideways distribution is critical for niche publications and they will need to find the balance point between content that is freely distributable and content you have to pay to see.
Of course none of this addresses the the most critical issue Magazines and Newspapers are facing right now. Most of the content is not worth paying for. Fixing that will require either a heavy investment from publishers or a changing of the guard.