Friday, January 07, 2005

New York Times Mulls Charging Web Readers

Yahoo! News - New York Times Mulls Charging Web Readers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York Times Co. is considering subscription fees to the online version of its flagship newspaper, which now is available for free, but it has no immediate plans to do so, the company said on Friday.

One of the paper's biggest rivals, Dow Jones & Co. Inc.'s Wall Street Journal, charges for its online edition. A New York Times spokeswoman said the company is reviewing whether it should make any business changes to the online version but that no shifts were imminent.

"We are reviewing the site to see whether or not there would be any areas where we should change the business model," said the spokeswoman, Catherine Mathis, adding: "This is not new. We've been discussing this for some time."

According to the upcoming issue of BusinessWeek magazine, whose cover story focuses on The New York Times Co., an internal debate has been raging at the newspaper over whether its online edition, which had about 18.5 million unique monthly visitors as of November, should adopt a subscription fee.

N.Y. Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. was quoted in the article as saying: "It gets to the issue of how comfortable are we training a generation of readers to get quality information for free. That is troubling."

The online edition of the newspaper is available for free to registered users, although some content, such as archived articles, are available only if readers pay a fee.

Paid Web sites can help publishers draw new circulation revenue, but free online editions can be attractive to advertisers because they attract many more readers.

Newspaper industry consultant John Morton, who heads Morton Research Inc., said he thinks many newspapers want to wean readers off free online content and transform their Web sites into paid-only publications.

Free editions of newspapers on the Web are "quickly falling out of favor," he said. "I think you will see newspapers selling electronic subscriptions or print subscriptions, or a combination of both, which is what the Wall Street Journal does, and has been very successful at."

The Journal had about 701,000 paid subscribers for its Web edition as of the third quarter. Online Journal subscribers pay $79 a year, or $39 if they also subscribe to the print version.

Mathis said that when the online version of the New York Times was first launched in the mid-1990s, it experimented with charging readers outside the United States a subscription fee. She said that plan was dropped in 1998 in favor of a free site for all registered users.

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