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NYTimes.com Plans To Charge For Unlimited Access

Gabriel Sherman at New York Magazine reports that the New York Times plans to charge a fee for unlimited access to their website.

New York Times Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. appears close to announcing that the paper will begin charging for access to its website, according to people familiar with internal deliberations. After a year of sometimes fraught debate inside the paper, the choice for some time has been between a Wall Street Journal-type pay wall and the metered system adopted by the Financial Times, in which readers can sample a certain number of free articles before being asked to subscribe. The Times seems to have settled on the metered system.

One personal friend of Sulzberger said a final decision could come within days, and a senior newsroom source agreed, adding that the plan could be announced in a matter of weeks. (Apple’s tablet computer is rumored to launch on January 27, and sources speculate that Sulzberger will strike a content partnership for the new device, which could dovetail with the paid strategy.) It will likely be months before the Times actually begins to charge for content, perhaps sometime this spring.

The metered system at the Financial Times offers maybe a dozen free articles to the user before asking for a subscription fee.

Online news outlets and heavy-volume readers would probably pony up, but there would be a tendency against putting NYT links in stories if readers would not be assured of access. That’s pretty much how the blogosphere works now, so walling off the national leader in news content would change that in subtle ways.

Then again, looking at the health care debate, the smaller, more focused outlets have repeatedly beaten the NYT to the punch in terms of delivering news quickly and efficiently. These are the days of the leaner and meaner news organization. But while I think the traditional media has its own biases and weaknesses, I am not an online media triumphalist; losing NYTimes.com access would be a blow to creating a well-informed citizenry.

NYTimes.com gets 20 million unique readers every month, and walling their content would reduce that traffic – and subsequent ad dollars – significantly. This is why so few newspapers have gone with a subscription model, including the old NYTimes.com, which used to have their editorialists behind a paywall. That was eventually lifted after the columnists saw their readership dwindle and began to complain.

The big news organizations – which are, at their best, vital to our understanding of global and national events – still haven’t figured out how to deal with the Internet.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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