Imagine being able to search through clippings from the Lindbergh kidnappings, or Black Monday in 1929, or the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, or press from the Napoleonic Wars. It would be riveting, truly history come alive (even if you have to pay to read the whole article).
More broadly, who is this good for and who does it hurt?
Surprisingly, perhaps, it's good for content owners, like the N.Y. Times (NYT). They just broadened their distribution umpteen-fold, while giving up, it seems, negligible revenue. I would expect them to finally begin really monetizing [Ooooh, that word] their giant news archives. (Doubly so given that the Times is saying that it will have its archives back to 1815 or so available digitally within twelve months.)
And who does it hurt? A number of companies, most prominently among them Reed-Elsevier (RUK), whose Lexis-Nexis service -- which sells news search via high-price subscription -- continues to be assaulted on many fronts. After all, many people just want an article cite -- date and publication -- and they will soon be able to get that for free.
NYT-RUK 1-yr comparison chart: