Thanks to the Washington Post, the future of news might look a little like Netflix or Amazon Prime. On Tuesday the newspaper announced a pilot partnership that will give subscribers of six metro newspapers free access to its Web content. By giving away content to paying customers of other newspapers, the Washington Post is creating a content distribution model that could bring revenue dollars back to the newspaper business.

But what could the Post gain from this deal—and, if this initial program becomes popular and expands, how could this change the players and methods of online content promotion and distribution?

The future of news: branded content

The news cycle, once the domain of big newspapers and the Big Three broadcast stations, has accelerated and decentralized. Trust and audience share belong to the entities that can capture and keep attention, regardless of how reliable information is. And now that brands and individuals have taken content creation and distribution into their own hands, anyone with the right tools and the right message can influence what online users read and share.

But a recent study conducted by Nielsen shows that expert content is the most effective source of information for impacting consumers. With organizations like the New York Times embracing native advertising and earned media, brands and marketers must invest resources into providing useful, authoritative content for their audiences.

And with more newspapers going digital, the potential to reach new readers through online news sites is increasing. By refusing to attach a cost to its metro newspapers partnership, the Washington Post is hoping to bring its content to a wider audience; and the brands who advertise in the Post will come with it.

Making content pay

Ad revenue is the name of the game for newspapers, and it’s a game more and more papers are losing. Because so many ad dollars have shifted to digital campaigns, newspapers and their traditional business models have made it difficult for them to stay afloat.

So, why would the Washington Post make its content free? Because it’s going where its audiences are, and where they’re willing to pay for content. The average user can find virtually any information she searches for online, and for free; but people are still willing to pay for services they find valuable.

Hulu, Netflix and Amazon Prime are examples of successful services that allow consumers to choose what, how and when they watch. This metro newspapers partnership is just the start of a potentially vast news network that provides subscribers reliable, timely, easily accessible digital news with offers from brands and companies they trust.

As owner of the Washington Post, Jeff Bezos has the opportunity to bring traditional newspapers into the digital age. And with this latest partnership, the Washington Post has the opportunity to prove that digital marketing has a legitimate and useful place in traditional news. Content distribution is just one of the ways news and marketing can find common ground.