Whether or not this has been a long time in coming, the time has come – the New York Times has announced that it will be charging for “frequent” access to its website. Visitors will be able to view a certain number of articles each month for free, after which they can pay a flat fee for unlimited access; this change is slated to occur in January 2011.
The goal here is apparently “to create a system that would have little effect on the millions of occasional visitors to the site, while trying to cash in on the loyalty of more devoted readers.” Of course, they haven’t decided the specifics yet, like how much you can get for free and how much you’ll have to pay when that runs out. This is a step that other large media outlets have been dancing around for a while now, ever since the “death of print media” seemed to be lurking just around the corner, and NYT needs to get this exactly right, or they’re really going to be in a mess.
You may recall that a few years ago NYT charged for online content, and it didn’t work so well; they nixed that in the hopes that advertising dollars through high readership would make up the difference, but that model hasn’t performed to their expectations. Of course, the Wall Street Journal still charges for unlimited access; whether that has hurt them or not, I couldn’t say.
Putting aside the issue of whether bloggers are to blame for professional journalism’s financial woes, considering how things simply are, how many people really are willing to pay for their news? Is the trusted brand of New York Times or Wall Street Journal worth a subscription fee? Do you think you’d be in the group of “frequent” readers who would max out your allotted free access? What would you be willing to pay? Or would you just prefer to get your news from whatever outlets are left that don’t charge?