Sam Zell, Pioneer

Who’s going to build a paywall first? Don’t bet on Sam Zell.

“I’m more than willing to let Rupert take the first sword,” Mr. Zell said on CNBC’s Squawk Box today. “And if it works, then I think everybody’s going to follow him, and should have in the first place.”

Mr. Zell, who owns the L.A. Times and the Chicago Tribune, and last year said he wanted to print the Journal‘s West Coast editions, didn’t seem eager to partner with Mr. Murdoch in order to create the kind of critical mass that some observers think it would take to make a pay wall work.

Asked whether he thought Mr. Murdoch’s plan will work, Mr. Zell replied: “I think there’s a good chance. I think that newspapers do create unique content, particularly locally, that people want to know and want to understand. And if, in fact, the cost of access to that is pennies, it won’t be an impediment to getting it done.”

Rather than take a sword, Mr. Murdoch seemed to win a victory yesterday when Google News announced a new policy that lets crabby providers limit free content to five clicks per user, per day. “We’re in the news business, not the dead tree business,” he told a conference yesterday.