|NY Times, September 18, 2007
Times to End Charges on Web Site
By RICHARD PÉREZ-PEÑA
The New York Times will stop charging for access to parts of its Web site, effective at midnight Tuesday night, reflecting a growing view in the industry that subscription fees cannot outweigh the potential ad revenue from increased traffic on a free site.
The move comes two years to the day after The Times began the subscription program, TimesSelect, which has charged $49.95 a year, or $7.95 a month, for online access to its columnists’ work and to the newspaper’s archives. TimesSelect has been free to print subscribers to The Times, and to some students and educators.
In addition to opening the entire site to all readers, The Times will also make available its archives from 1987 to the present without charge, as well as those from 1851 to 1922, which are in the public domain.
The newspaper said the TimesSelect project had met expectations, drawing 227,000 paying subscribers — out of 787,000 over all — and generating about $10 million a year in revenue.
“But our projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising,” said Vivian L. Schiller, senior vice president and general manager of the site, NYTimes.com.
What changed, The Times said, was that many more readers started coming to the site from search engines and links on other sites instead of coming directly to NYtimes.com. These indirect readers, unable to gain access to articles behind the pay wall and less likely to pay subscription fees than the more loyal direct users, were seen as opportunities for more page views and increased advertising revenue.
“What wasn’t anticipated was the explosion in how much of our traffic would be generated by Google, by Yahoo and some others,” Ms. Schiller said.
The Times’s site has about 13 million unique visitors each month, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, far more than any other newspaper site. Ms. Schiller would not say how much increased Web traffic the paper expects from eliminating the charges, or how much additional ad revenue the move was expected to generate.
Those who have paid in advance for access to TimesSelect will be reimbursed on a prorated basis.
The Wall Street Journal is the only major newspaper in the country to charge for access to most of its Web site, and it has nearly 1 million paying online readers. But its parent, Dow Jones & Company, is studying whether to continue the practice, according to people briefed on those talks.
Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corporation is about to take over Dow Jones, has talked of the possibility of making access to The Journal free online.
The Financial Times charges for access to selected material online, much as The New York Times has. The Los Angeles Times tried that model in 2005, but quickly dropped it, after seeing a sharp decline in Web traffic.