March 17, 2011— -- Struggling with its business model as readers migrate to online news, the New York Times said Thursday it will begin charging for access to its website and apps as of March 28.
"Today marks a significant transition for The New York Times as we introduce digital subscriptions," Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said in a letter to readers. "It's an important step that we hope you will see as an investment in The Times, one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform. The change will primarily affect those who are heavy consumers of the content on our Web site and on mobile applications."
The newspaper will roll out the paywall first to its readers in Canada, to "fine-tune the customer experience" before the global launch. On March 28, the following pricing begins in the U.S:
On NYTimes.com, readers can view 20 articles every four weeks for free, including slide shows, videos and other features. After 20 articles, the charge is $15 evvery four weeks for full access to the site and smartphone apps.
Website and tablet apps like iPad will be $20 every four weeks. For $35, readers get full access on all platforms. Home delivery subscribers will get all access for no extra charge.
Readers who come to Times through links from search, blogs and social media like Facebook and Twitter can access those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit, the newspaper said. For some search engines, users will have a daily limit of free links to Times articles.
The home page at NYTimes.com and section fronts will be free to browse for all users, the same system the Wall Street Journal, the largest pay site, currently uses.
The Times tried a pay model for its columnists six years ago but dropped the charges so it could build traffic to its website.
The newspaper has faced declining sales and profit for several years. Lazard Capital Markets rates the shares a "sell," saying the company has increasingly been a laggard in the shift to digital.
Sales fell 3 percent in the fourth quarter to $661 million and profit declined by more than a third to $67 million.
"The advertising marketplace was volatile during the quarter," New York Times Chief Executive Janet Robinson said in a statement in early March. "The progress we made on the print advertising front in October and November was not sustained in December."
Earlier this week, the Pew Research Center reported that for the first time more Americans are getting their news online than from newspapers, a trend that is expected to accelerate.
Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. recently launched a daily newspaper for the iPad that costs 99 cents a week for access.