Times to Stop Charging for Parts of Its Web Site
The New York Times will stop charging for access to parts of its Web site, effective at midnight Tuesday night.
The move comes two years to the day after The Times began the subscription program, TimesSelect, which has charged $49.95 a year, or $7.95 a month, for online access to the work of its columnists and to the newspaper’s archives. TimesSelect has been free to print subscribers to The Times and to some students and educators.
In addition to opening the entire site to all readers, The Times will also make available its archives from 1987 to the present without charge, as well as those from 1851 to 1922, which are in the public domain. There will be charges for some material from the period 1923 to 1986, and some will be free.
The Times said the project had met expectations, drawing 227,000 paying subscribers — out of 787,000 over all — and generating about $10 million a year in revenue.
“But our projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising,” said Vivian L. Schiller, senior vice president and general manager of the site, NYTimes.com.
What changed, The Times said, was that many more readers started coming to the site from search engines and links on other sites instead of coming directly to NYTimes.com. These indirect readers, unable to get access to articles behind the pay wall and less likely to pay subscription fees than the more loyal direct users, were seen as opportunities for more page views and increased advertising revenue.
The Times’s site has about 13 million unique visitors each month, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, far more than any other newspaper site. Ms. Schiller would not say how much increased Web traffic the paper expects by eliminating the charges, or how much additional ad revenue the move was expected to generate.
Those who have paid in advance for access to TimesSelect will be reimbursed on a prorated basis.
Colby Atwood, president of Borrell Associates, a media research firm, said that there have always been reasons to question the pay model for news sites, and that doubts have grown along with Web traffic and online ad revenue.
“The business model for advertising revenue, versus subscriber revenue, is so much more attractive,” he said. “The hybrid model has some potential, but in the long run, the advertising side will dominate.”
In addition, he said, The Times has been especially effective at using information it collects about its online readers to aim ads specifically to them, increasing their value to advertisers.
Many readers lamented their loss of access to the work of the 23 news and opinion columnists of The Times — as did some of the columnists themselves. Some of those writers have such ardent followings that even with access restricted, their work often appeared on the lists of the most e-mailed articles.
Experts say that opinion columns are unlikely to generate much ad revenue, but that they can drive a lot of reader traffic to other, more lucrative parts of The Times site, like topic pages devoted to health and technology.
The Wall Street Journal, published by Dow Jones & Company, is the only major newspaper in the country to charge for access to most of its Web site, which it began doing in 1996. The Journal has nearly one million paying online readers, generating about $65 million in revenue.
Dow Jones and the company that is about to take it over, the News Corporation, are discussing whether to continue that practice, according to people briefed on those talks. Rupert Murdoch, the News Corporation chairman, has talked of the possibility of making access to The Journal free online.
The Financial Times charges for access to selected material online, much as The New York Times has.
The Los Angeles Times tried that model in 2005, charging for access to its arts section, but quickly dropped it after experiencing a sharp decline in Web traffic.