New York Times To Ditch Free Online Access?

Dennis Faas's picture

The New York Times is considering a fee for frequent visitors to its website. The plan would make it arguably the most high-profile newspaper to charge for online access.

According to a source quoted in the Wall Street Journal, it's almost inevitable the Times will indeed introduce some form of online access fee. At this stage the only decision is between two methods of doing so.

Limits, Premium Articles Amongst Options

The first is to limit the number of articles people can read each day without charge. The second plan would be to have some articles free and the rest exclusive to online subscribers.

The second option is already used by some newspapers including, ironically enough, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). However, there is a theory that this approach only works where particular articles have a perceived added value. In the case of the WSJ, that would include financial and business articles, seen as an asset for investors and fund managers.

$100 Million Ad Revenue At Stake

It's reported that the Times currently makes $100 million a year from advertising on its site, a figure which would of course be heavily reduced if it went to a paid model, cutting its viewership.

In one survey of readers, the newspaper pegged a possible subscription fee of $5 a month, requiring 1.6 million subscribers to cover the entire costs of advertising. That sounds incredibly unlikely, though of course some of the advertising revenue would still remain.

Indeed, by showing a willingness to spend on the subscription, the remaining readers might appear more attractive to advertisers. (Source:

Previous Paid Trial Abandoned

The Times has previously experimented with online subscriptions: for two years it ran a scheme by which some columns were only available for a fee, which also covered access to the newspaper's archive. Charged at $50 a year, the TimesSelect scheme attracted 227,000 subscribers. (Source:

TimesSelect, however, was later ditched in 2007, as the newspaper believed it could make more from online advertising. At the time, the newspaper said its readership online was proving much higher than expected, as people were visiting articles they had found via search engines rather than specifically targeting the Times website.

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