The New York Times has announced its long-awaited digital pay model, a move that will be closely watched as a barometer of print publishers’ ability to charge for content after years of giving it away for free.
One concern with pay models is that they could cause an online audience drop-off and corresponding decline in advertising. The Times said its metered model was designed to mainly affect heavy users and that it believes its approach will continue to let it attract a large audience that’s sought after by advertisers.
"Our decision to begin charging for digital access will result in another source of revenue, strengthening our ability to continue to invest in the journalism and digital innovation on which our readers have come to depend,” Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of The New York Times Co. and publisher of the Times, said in a statement. “This move will enhance the Times' position as a source of trustworthy news, information and high-quality opinion for many years to come."
Here are some highlights of the plan, which has been in the works for more than a year:
--Home delivery customers of the Times and its global edition, the International Herald Tribune, will get free, unlimited access to NYTimes.com and all content on all the Times’ apps, even with the most limited print subscription package.
--Starting March 28, users of the paper’s Web site and smartphone and tablet apps who are not home delivery subscribers will be cut off after viewing 20 articles or other pieces of content per month and asked to subscribe to one of three plans.
--The basic plan, which includes access to NYTimes.com and smartphone app, costs $15 for a four-week period. The price goes up to $20 for a package that includes a tablet app and unlimited use of NYTimes.com. Access to all three digital platforms is $35. For now, the Times doesn’t appear to be offering an annual discount rate.
--The site’s homepage and section fronts will be free to view for all users.
There are, of course, exceptions and workarounds. Not all mobile devices support the Times’ apps. Times crossword apps aren’t included in the free content that print subscribers get. Articles accessed through links from search engines, blogs and social media won’t count toward the monthly 20-article limit, though there will be a limit of five articles per day accessed through Google.
While the focus has been on the paper’s site and its tablet application, the party’s also over for the Times’ smartphone user base, which has enjoyed a free, ad-supported experience for several years. Times executives must fear that delivering free content to the iPhone will reduce users’ incentive to pay for subscriptions on other platforms.