NYT Inches Closer to Charging for Web Content

While significant, the Times approach may be less influential to rest of industry than once thought

For nearly a year, the New York Times has been mulling a strategy for charging for content online. Now it appears the paper is close to an announcement on the matter, according to a report by New York magazine. (According to the New York Post, the paper is under pressure from billionaire investor Carlos Slim to figure out its plan sooner than later.)

What the Times is leaning toward, according to the New York mag report, is a metered approach to charging for Web content similar to the Financial Times. Under the plan, New York Times readers would be allowed access to a limited number of articles before being asked to pay a monthly access fee.

The paper had been considering a pay wall similar to the Wall Street Journal’s Web site, but has apparently scrapped that idea. The report says an announcement is fairly imminent and may even be tied to the rumored January 27 announcement of Apple’s tablet.

"We'll announce a decision when we believe that we have crafted the best possible business approach,” Times spokesperson Diane McNulty said. “No details till then."

The decision to go paid is “monumental” for the Times, New York magazine said.

What the Times decides to do here is significant for the rest of the industry, no doubt, although just how influential the Times online approach is now versus three years ago is up for debate.

After all, hundreds of newspaper publishers have been mulling their paid content options, too, through a partnership with Journalism Online, the fledgling service launched last year by L. Gordon Crovitz and Steven Brill. More than 1,200 content producers have signed on since its launch in May.

While Journalism Online is not discussing which publishers it has agreements with, I’m told the Times is not one of them.

Nor is WSJ and Dow Jones parent News Corp., whose chief, Rupert Murdoch, has become something of a lightning rod on the subject.

What’s the troubling for those in favor of free is that the Times was unable to properly monetize its formidable traffic – about 12.6 million unique monthly visitors in the U.S., according to Quantcast estimates.

The flashy sole-sponsored Web pages aren’t bringing in enough revenue to make it work.
(Just today, for instance, Prada took over the Times homepage.)

It’s also a return to a concept the Times abandoned less than three years ago. In September 2007, the paper killed TimesSelect, its two-year-old subscription program – this despite boasting more than 227,000 paying subscribers and generating roughly $10 million a year in revenue.

More to read:

What It Will Take for Paid Content to Work