NYT online: From free to fee

A woman reads the online version of the New York Times on January 20, 2010. The New York Times announced Wednesday that it will begin charging online readers of the newspaper at the beginning of next year. 'The new approach, referred to as the metered model, will offer users free access to a set number of articles per month and then charge users once they exceed that number,' The New York Times Co. said in a statement. The Times Co. did not announce any pricing for full access to the newspaper's website or how many articles would be available for free.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: I noticed for the first time this weekend that the blue wrapper of my Sunday New York Times -- the actual dead-tree version that shows up at the end of my driveway -- has a new slogan on it. "All The News That's Fit to Print" has been replaced by "All the News That's Fit to Download." And, in fact, the Gray Lady is getting an online makeover of sorts.

The Times is getting set to roll out its plan to charge for access to its website. Like a lot of publishers, the Times is having trouble selling actual newspapers. But its website -- the so-far free website -- is among the most popular news sites out there. So with the Times moving to a pay model, will readers -- and other papers follow suit? Marketplace's Janet Babin reports.


Janet Babin: To illustrate how bad the current free model is for newspapers, let's start with a cartoon video created by someone called BrooklynLee. It's about an aspiring reporter asking advice from a veteran female journalist. To test his commitment, she asks if he'd be willing write about pork bellies in the Midwest.

Clip from BrooklynLee video: No, I would like to write for the New York Times.

Then she asks the wannabe if he even subscribes to the Times.

Clip from BrooklynLee video: No, why would I pay money for a subscription? I read it for free online.

And that pretty much sums up why newspapers are considering paid content models.

The New York Times says beginning some time in the first quarter of this year, it will charge users once they go over a set number of free articles.

Paul Levinson: It's a very dangerous move, I think.

Fordham University professor Paul Levinson wrote the book "New New Media." He says pay content interferes with the life blood of how many people get the news.

Levinson: Talking about something in a tweet on Twitter, which is in turn related to Facebook, and when any link in that chain is behind a pay wall, that destroys that whole part of the process.

But media consultant Alan Mutter thinks the pay wall may work for the Times. It has, he says, for the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. But Mutter fears it will be a much harder sell for local papers.

Alan Mutter: A lot of what they publish today isn't that unique that a lot of people are going to be willing to pay for it, when they've been conditioned to see such content for free on the web.

That conditioning will be tested by these new pay walls. The Dallas Morning News will begin charging for some content next month.

I'm Janet Babin for Marketplace.

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