Washington: The New York Times, in a move that will be closely watched by other newspapers suffering from plunging print advertising revenue, announced it will begin charging online readers 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 on Wednesday.
The Times Co did not announce pricing for full access to the newspaper`s website, which currently draws more than 15 million unique visitors a month, or how many articles would be available for free.
The paid model will be introduced "at the beginning of 2011," a Times Co statement said, while the newspaper reported it would begin in January.
Print subscribers to the Times will continue to have free online access to NYTimes.com once the metered model is in place.
Like other newspapers and magazines in the United States, the Times has been grappling with declining print advertising revenue, falling circulation and the migration of readers to free news on the Internet.
Dan Kennedy, an assistant professor of journalism at Boston`s Northeastern University, said the move was expected and something the Times needed to try.
"Over the past year or so it`s become increasingly clear that advertising alone may never support the heavy infrastructure of a traditional newspaper website," Kennedy told a news agency.
"Increasingly people have been thinking about various ways for readers to pick up more of the share."
Kennedy said that while other struggling newspapers will be watching the Times` efforts to get readers to pay online, "I don`t think it ends up being a very valid test or experiment for the industry as a whole.
"They`re likely to be far more successful with this than other newspapers might be because when it comes to mainstream journalism the Times is the gold standard," he said. "There are a lot of people who would pay for access to the Times."
Times Co chairman and publisher Arthur Sulzberger said Times readers are "very loyal" and "will pay for our award-winning digital content and services."
The New York Times experimented with a pay wall in 2005, charging for access to columnists and other content with a system called TimesSelect, but abandoned the move two years later.
Times Co. president and chief executive Janet Robinson said the latest bid to charge online is "driven by our desire to achieve additional revenue diversity that will make us less susceptible to the inevitable economic cycles."
The News Corp-owned Wall Street Journal and Long Island`s Newsday are currently the only major US newspapers charging readers for full online access but a number of other publishers are also considering the move.
Britain`s Financial Times uses a similar metered system to that being proposed by the Times and News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch has announced plans to begin charging online readers of all of the newspapers in his vast stable.
Other newspaper publishers have been reluctant to take the step fearing it would drive readers to free news sites and result in a loss of revenue from online advertising.
An article in the Times about the move attracted hundreds of comments and emails from readers and the newspaper said those who insisted they would not pay outnumbered those who said they would.
"Readers who read exclusively on line need to pony up," said "GMnickles" of Reno, Nevada.
"Charging for online access will be a mistake," said a reader named "Stan" from New Jersey. "The Times tried this before and it failed. This attempt will do so as well."
Besides the flagship newspaper, the Times Co. owns the International Herald Tribune, The Boston Globe, 15 other daily newspapers and more than 50 websites.
The Times Co. last year sought to sell the money-losing Boston Globe and carried out a series of job cuts in its more than 1,000-strong newsroom.
The Times Co. also completed a sale-leaseback deal for part of its Manhattan headquarters last year in a move aimed at raising cash to pay down its debt and received a 250-million-dollar loan from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.
The Times is also seeking a buyer for its 17.75-percent stake in New England Sports Ventures, which owns the Boston Red Sox baseball team and their iconic stadium, Fenway Park.
Times Co. shares lost 2.85 percent on Wall Street on Wednesday to close at 13.31 dollars.