NYT to Start Charging for Online?

The editor of The New York Times has hinted that the newspaper might charge again for access to some of its online offerings, less than two years after abandoning fees to boost advertising revenue.

Executive editor Bill Keller gave no specifics or timetable, and company officials characterized the internal discussions as general and ongoing.

In an online question-and-answer exchange with readers this week, Keller said that although advertising generates the bulk of online revenue, “a lively, deadly serious discussion continues within The Times about ways to get consumers to pay for what we make.”

Possibility include charging for full-access subscriptions, developing a micro-payment model in which readers pay a few pennies each time they click on a page and selling news to be distributed on reading devices, as the Times already does with Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle.

Keller said the Times already makes a modest amount of money from Kindle owners who download an electronic version of the newspaper and from subscribers to TimesReader software for displaying newspapers on computers.

“So some people are paying for The Times online,” he said. “Just not enough of them. So far.”

Newspaper publishers everywhere have been grappling with how to generate more revenue from their growing online audiences, because Internet advertising still sells for far less than a comparable print ad. In the fourth quarter, combined online advertising at the Times and sister newspapers like The Boston Globe dropped for the first time.

The Christian Science Monitor is developing a for-fee daily electronic newsletter, while U.S. News and World Report is reviving a weekly publication as a digital download for $24.95 a year. News Corp.’s The Wall Street Journal is one of the few that has successfully charged for online subscriptions, but it lags the Times’ Web site in total audience.

The Times, the No. 1 newspaper Web site, still charges for access to crossword puzzles online and a few other features, but for the most part it has dropped fees for accessing its archives and selected op-ed columnists through a product called TimesSelect.

“TimesSelect generated something like $10 million a year, which was real money, but in the end the company calculated that we’d be better off taking down the wall and letting the flood of additional visitors to the Web site attract advertising dollars,” Keller said. “The lesson of that experiment, however, was not that readers won’t pay for content.”