The Gray Lady will introduce "TimesSelect" in September. TimesSelect will require users to pay $49.95 annually to get access to "Op-Ed and news columnists on NYTimes.com, easy and in-depth access to The Times's online archives, early access to select articles on the site, as well as other exciting features."
Subscribers get automatic access to the content online, while the rest of the site's content will remain free. (But if TimesSelect gains traction, expect more of the site to go behind the firewall.)
The question is: Will the paid content strategy succeed?
Previously, publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. in an interview with BusinessWeek suggested that the Times was heading in this direction:
"It gets to the issue of how comfortable are we training a generation of readers to get quality information for free," he says. "That is troubling."
The columnists and selected other bits of content are what differentiate the Times from other papers and from wire services. And so it's smart to gate this content from the standpoint of introducing a paid strategy, while allowing people to read the rest for free. (It comes at a time when others such as CNN are abandoning paid content strategies.)
The Wall Street Journal has been charging for access to its content for some time. The WSJ may be in a category by itself for several reasons, however, including the power of the brand and the business/cultural demands to read it, as well as the ability to deduct subscriptions as a business expense.
But one problem with the WSJ's strategy, which recently prompted the paper to offer/tease more of its content for free, is that it hasn't been able to use the online edition to attract new subscribers. The Times is wisely allowing most of its content to remain free to maintain its online, non-subscriber audience (traffic/eyeballs drives the ad revenue).
A paid content strategy for the Times was probably inevitable. And much more than the WSJ, it will test whether charging for content is potentially viable for newspapers. I don't believe it is. Without radical changes in newspaper sites, there are very few that could do something like this and get away with it. (Again, there is tension between an ad strategy and a paid content strategy.)
The TimesSelect price point is relatively low and there are some number of former subscribers out there that might be prompted to resubscribe as a result. There are probably also some number of people who will hand over the $50 in order to keep reading Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd and David Brooks, et al. This isn't going to work as a strategy to broaden the subscriber base, however.
The Times will probably gain some incremental revenue, but I doubt it will be a home run. We'll see if time (and the Times) proves me wrong.
Interesting, additional information (including plans for an "affiliate network") in Paid Content.
Survey of reaction here.