The New York Times tries another pay wall

By some measures, newspapers are more popular than ever. Declining circulation numbers for the paper product are more than compensated for by rising online visitors. The long-term problem is that online advertising is a far smaller source of revenue than print advertising, which makes it hard to pay for the journalism that attracts readers.

The New York Times has made a couple of attempts at charging for content, most notably the failed TimesSelect experiment that locked their highly regarded columnists behind a paywall. All that managed to accomplish was to remove those columnists from the online conversation. While anyone could link to a Paul Krugman column, a reader would have to sign up for TimesSelect ($7.95 a month, or $50 for a year) to follow the link. That lasted two years, which was longer than many thought.

The Times is trying again, and this time they may have a more viable model. The key is this: Casual readers will be able to click on stories for free. But usage will be metered, and if you read more than 20 articles a month, The Times will ask you to start paying. The rates aren’t bad: $15 for four weeks’ access to NYTimes.com and a smartphone app, $20 for NYTimes.com and a tablet app and $35 for full access from any digital appliance. The yearly fees add up: $195/$260/$455 respectively for the various options. There’s no indication yet of a discount for a yearly subscription, but I’d be surprised if that wasn’t coming.

Lots of newspapers will be watching to see how this works. The honchos at The Times – and some others – think the time is right. The proliferation of iOS apps has gotten people somewhat acclimated to the idea of paying for content. The 20 articles a month for free also addresses the issue of casual readers and locking important content out of the blogosphere.

Good journalism can’t be free. If ads won’t pay for it, readers will have to – at least if they discover they actually value it.

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