The New York Times has announced it intends to take its online news offering behind a “paywall” beginning in early 2011. Frequent readers of its Web site will have to pay the newspaper for access to online versions of its content; access will be available for a flat fee, and subscribers to the print edition will be have full access to the Web site at no additional charge.
“Our new business model is designed to provide additional support for The New York Times’ extraordinary, professional journalism,” said publisher New York Times Company chair Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., in a statement. “Our audiences are very loyal and we believe that our readers will pay for our award-winning digital content and services.”
The newspaper did not announce how much access to the site would cost, how payments would be handled, or what constituted “frequent” access to the site. The newspaper says that “incidental” visitors who occasionally come into the site or an article via a link or searches will not be impacted by the paywall model; the paper also apparently plans to roll its own payment and subscription management system, rather than rely on third-party services.
The New York Times is consistently ranked as one of the most-trafficked newspaper sites on the Internet: according to Nielsen, it is the top newspaper-owned Web site and among the top five news and current events sites. The newspaper has a storied history and, despite some controversies, is generally regarded as one of the top journalism outlets in the United States and the world. The paper does command a very loyal audience of subscribers and a strong brand; however, it remains to be seen how many of them will be willing to pay to access that content online if they don’t already subscribe to the printed edition.
Industry watchers view the paper’s move as gutsy. To date, the most successful “paywall” operation in the newspaper business is the Wall Street Journal, which offers highly specialized business content. However, general interest current events and news publications have so far hesitated to take their content behind paywalls, fearing the move will gut their online operations as Internet users simply shift to other online venues that offer news content without a fee. So far, the primary force in making newspapers consider a paywall model is mega-publisher Rupert Murdoch (whose News Corp. also owns the Wall Street Journal).