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New York Times’ Plan to Charge Online Raises More Questions Than Answers

“Our readers have told us they are willing to pay”; paper says its homepage will remain free

The New York Times’ announcement of their plan to charge frequent visitors to its website beginning in 2011 is raising more questions than answers.

Chief among them: What will the price be?

Also, why wait until 2011? Hasn’t this idea been discussed internally at the paper for nearly a year?

And, doesn’t this plan alienate the most loyal readers?

I asked the Times Co. these and other questions. Here is what they said, via a spokesperson:

Why are you taking another year to implement?
We spent a good amount of time in lively discussion and deep analysis exploring new ways to develop alternate revenue streams for NYTimes.com and to come up with the best possible solution. Now that we have made the decision, we want to mobilize our employees to implement this new approach, to build the tools we need to provide NYTimes.com users with the finest possible experience under this new model.

The company is determined to make subscribing to the new metered model as smooth and easy as possible for our users. We will be working toward integrating our home delivery and Web systems so we can ensure a frictionless and engaging user interface for home delivery subscribers. It will also take some time to build, test and deploy the right systems.

In charging those who frequently access the nytimes.com, don’t you risk alienating your most loyal readers?
Our readers have told us they are willing to pay. Our loyal readers know that The Times brings them the best, most authoritative, intelligent and well-written news and opinion. They understand that high-quality professional journalism is worth it.

You did not announce the number of articles that you can access for free, or the price you’ll charge. How are you going to determine that?

The home page will be free and users will have access to a certain number of articles before they are prompted to subscribe. We will announce more details as we get closer to launch.

Will it be a weekly charge? Monthly? Annual?
In the upcoming months, we will be announcing more information on the price points and billing structure for the planned monthly and annual subscriptions.

How much will building the infrastructure cost?

We do not disclose projected costs.

How much revenue do you expect to get from this new stream?
We are not disclosing any projections on revenues at this time.

Do you expect to get more paying subscribers through this plan than you had with TimesSelect? And more revenue?
Yes, we expect more paying subscribers as the metered model will include the entire NYTimes.com site. TimesSelect was a pay online offering that provided exclusive access to news and opinion columnists of The Times and the International Herald Tribune (IHT), as well as an array of online services and special features including our archives. TimesSelect grew to 227,000 paying subscribers in its first year (launched Sept. 19, 2005).

Were there discussions to join JournalismOnline? And why did you ultimately decide to "go it alone"?

We would not discuss any conversations me may or may not have had with potential partners.

More to read:

It’s Official: New York Times to Charge for Online Content