To see this, consider the relationship between:
- An aggregator, by which I mean any website that makes its money largely by providing links to content hosted on other people's sites. The obvious examples are Google News, the Drudge Report and (to a lesser extent) the Huffington Post. But it could also be Twitter - it doesn't matter if the links are authored by the site owner or by its users.
- A publisher, by which I mean a site that hosts content that it "owns". This could be a newspaper's website or any site with a right to host and monetize content. It doesn't matter if the site's owners are the creators of the content or have simply paid for the right to host it, like Yahoo News.
- If the aggregator could no longer link to the publisher for free, it would readily find another similar publisher willing to accept the traffic for free
- As a result of this, very few of the aggregator's users would care if it stopped linking to the publisher
At this point you could say: "The aggregator is profiting from the publisher. If the aggregator doesn't pay the publisher, it is free-riding. This is unfair."
- If all the traffic is incremental then publishers may have more to lose than aggregators, because they can probably monetise this traffic better (e.g. more pages per visitor, higher CPMs, etc). Value is being created, and under a no-payment scheme publishers would still be getting more than half the pie
- If none of the traffic is incremental then publishers have nothing to lose from blocking the aggregator. They could drive a hard bargain and demand that the aggregator pass on half its revenues - or more
Reality is likely to be a mix of these two scenarios. If, say, half of the traffic that publishers get from aggregators is genuinely incremental to what they would get without them, this would mean that (a) value is genuinely being created (i.e. people read more news than in a world without aggregators), but (b) under today's no-payment scheme aggregators as an industry are capturing more of this value than publishers as an industry.