New York Times cuts back on free articles as more readers pay up

New York Times

The New York Times announced today that it is reducing the number of articles visitors can read for free on its website from 20 per month down to 10. The move comes a year after the venerable newspaper first announced its digital subscription program and began restricting access to free articles on its website. The newspaper also announced it now has about 454,000 subscribers to its digital subscription packages.

“Last year was a transformative one for The Times as we began to charge for digital access to our content,” said New York Times Company chairman and interim CEO Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., in a statement. “We knew that readers placed a high value on our journalism, and we anticipated they would respond positively to our digital subscription packages.”

The lower limit of ten free items per month from The New York Times will work much like the previous limit of 20: visitors will be able to access up to 10 items (including videos, slideshows, and other content) per month. After that, subsequent attempts to access NYTimes.com content will produce a prompt for the user to become a digital subscriber. Users who come to NYTimes content via blogs, social media, search, and email will continue to be able to access individual items even if they’ve exceeded their monthly limit, although the paper says it will enforce a limit of five free links a day for visitors arriving from “some search engines.”

Historically, the enforcement mechanisms used by The New York Times to restrict access to content have been trivial to overcome, at least for the technically inclined. To date, the NYTimes’ paywall doesn’t seem to have been intended as a serious technical barrier to accessing content, but as a way to prompt frequent visitors to more-seriously consider digital subscriptions. The newspaper offers a number of digital subscription packages, including versions for tablets and smartphones. The paper also offers digital content alongside subscriptions to its print edition.

The New York Times Company is currently on the hunt for a chief executive, following the departure of Janet Robinson in December. The newspaper’s digital head, Martin Nisenholtz, retired from the paper a month earlier. Like other major newspapers, The New York Times has faced declining revenues from print advertising and print subscribers, and has been looking to restrict its content and add digital subscription options as a way to make up revenues. The strategy may be working: The New York Times’ circulation revenue was up 5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011 to $241.6 million.