NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The New York Times will begin charging readers to view content on its Web site beginning in 2011, the paper said Wednesday.
Through its new "metered model," readers will be able to freely view a set number of articles per month, but after reaching that monthly limit, they will have to pay a fee. Print subscribers will continue to have free access to NYTimes.com.
"This will enable NYTimes.com to create a second revenue stream and preserve its robust advertising business," according to the company's statement.
The publisher plans to spend 2010 building a new infrastructure for implementing the payment structure.
"This is really interesting because it's unusual for companies to announce things like this so far in advance," said Ken Doctor, a news industry analyst for research consultancy firm Outsell. "My sense is that they wanted to put a stake in the ground and say 'these are our intentions.'"
And while the infrastructure will take time to build, Doctor said he thinks the company will use the year as a buffer in case the company decides to reverse course.
"If you're the Times, you can show leadership and nudge other news providers toward a paid model," he said. "But let's say the market changes, this gives them the chance to react to those changes and pull back."
Whether to charge readers for content has been an ongoing debate among online journalism sites, and Doctor said the switch to a paid model is a step many other companies are considering as well.
"You've got Newscorp announcing that intention, now the New York Times announcing that intention, Hearst moving toward a pay wall and many others looking at variations on the theme of charging," said Doctor. "These companies don't just get together and decide when to start charging for content, but if one does it, the hope is that others will follow."
The question is whether this metered model makes as much sense for a general news publication as it does for specialized sites like the Financial Time's Web site, FT.com. Because with the exception of financial news, people have been largely unwilling to pay for content, said Doctor.
"If you are in the money business, you need breaking news to make decisions that are going to make or lose you money," he said. "So paying for an online subscription to the Wall Street Journal is peanuts."
But because of the New York Time's broad coverage, the company will have to find a way to target its most loyal readers who are willing to pay for its content.
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