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So why can't you get only certain sections of the newspaper?

So why can't you get only certain sections of the newspaper?
You don't break up a newspaper, just as you don't break up a cable channel. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Every time I write about a la carte TV -- paying only for the channels you want -- some clever reader fires back with the newspaper analogy.

As this email from Bliss put it: "Can I stop paying for the L.A. Times sports section?"

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I get the point. But the analogy is flawed.

A la carte TV is back in the news because HBO and CBS said this week that they'll be launching online services that will allow subscribers to access programs online, rather than through a cable or satellite box.

As I wrote in Friday's paper, it's an understatement to say that this will shake up the pay-TV business as we know it. Other networks soon will offer their own streaming services, while pay-TV companies will probably respond with smaller, cheaper bundles of programs.

The pay-TV industry insists that a la carte would result in higher prices for consumers and less diversity of channels. My feeling is that the marketplace will work its magic and that, in any case, consumers shouldn't have to pay for products they don't want.

Which brings us back to Bliss' question. If a la carte is so great, why can't newspaper readers pick and choose the sections they want?

First of all, they can. Most newspapers give away at least a portion of their content online for free. Help yourself.

More to the point, a newspaper isn't the equivalent of a cable system. The correct analogy is to compare it to a cable channel.

Therefore, a subscriber can't receive the front section and the Calendar section, say, but not the Business section. That would be like subscribing to CNN and wanting Anderson Cooper but not Wolf Blitzer.

On the other hand, when you subscribe to the L.A. Times, you don't also have to receive the Miami Herald and the Detroit Free Press -- newspapers you might not want to read.

But if you're a pay-TV customer, you're almost certainly getting Fox News and MSNBC along with CNN, redardless of whether you want them.

A la carte would fix that, allowing consumers to decide -- and pay for -- only the channels they desire.

Besides, why would anyone not want the entire L.A. Times?

If you have a consumer question, email me at asklaz@latimes.com or contact me via Twitter @Davidlaz.

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