Yep, Google knows what's the value of traffic to websites. It's pretty much their entire business model.
Some publishers might actually prefer a paying model, because then they could bid to be on top of competition. For big publishers, the current all-free model is the worst: It makes it cheap for small indies to get discovered by users, when they wouldn't stand a chance otherwise. That I understand, big publishers actually benefited from Google News being shut down in Spain. The traffic went down for the industry as a whole, but the majority of what was left went to big sites, because they were better known to users, and they had more money to pay for ads.
Whether that leads to quality news... Maybe? Less clickbait... more BBC... but also more Daily Mail... Hmm.