The New York Times will start charging readers to access some of its Web site's content next year, hoping such a move will complement its online advertising revenue, it said on Wednesday.
The risk, of course, is that readers will be turned off, decline to pay and go elsewhere on the Web, thus affecting traffic and online ad revenue negatively as well.
In a recent study, Forrester Research found that most people in the U.S. will not pay for online access to newspaper and magazine articles and other content. In that study, 80 percent of the 4,700 U.S. readers polled said they would not pay.
The study also found that the 20 percent of people willing to pay is far from unified in its payment preferences, with some wanting one fee for access to all online content, others wanting one fee for online, print and mobile access and another group preferring micropayments to buy individual articles.
The New York Times plans to let Web site visitors read an as-of-yet unspecified number of articles free per month, setting up a pay wall after that number is exceeded. To provide this "metered model," the newspaper is building a new online system.
Ultimately, the newspaper wants to keep "an appropriate ratio" of free and fee-based content that will let it continue to appear in search engines and draw visitors in that way, it said on Wednesday.
Subscribers to The New York Times' print edition will have free access to the Web site. The newspaper will provide more details about the plan in the coming months.
In October 2009, The New York Times Digital Web properties, which includes NYTimes.com, drew 50.2 million unique visitors in the U.S., making it the 18th most popular network of sites in the country. Google sites topped the list with a total 164 million unique visitors.
Newspapers and magazines have seen their print advertising revenue decimated by the shift of the publishing business to the Web, where search advertising programs such as Google's AdWords have proven more effective than traditional paper-based classifieds.
Publishers of large newspapers and news agencies in the U.S. and abroad are increasingly complaining about Google, saying the company has built its business by indexing their content and making it searchable without paying them.
Google all along has argued that its practice of indexing news content is protected by the fair use principle, because it only displays headlines and a short blurb about the articles.
For example, News Corp.'s CEO Rupert Murdoch has grumbled about keeping his company's publications, including The Wall Street Journal, off-limits to Google's Web crawler.
In addition, Google has apparently been unable to renew a licensing agreement with the Associated Press that has allowed Google to post full-text versions of AP stories in Google News in recent years.