Times Announces New Fees for Online Readers: People Will Pay, But How Will the Competition Follow?

The New York Times announced on Wednesday that it will begin charging frequent readers for access to its online articles on its website coming January 2011.  Readers will be allotted a certain number of articles online per month for free, but will be charged a flat fee for unlimited access to The Times’ website once they have surpassed that number, according to a press release published by The Times on Wednesday.

Since this announcement, media analysts have been asking whether or not readers will actually pay for online subscriptions, or if The Times is destined to lose followers in favor of no cost news.  I think it’s silly to even question if readers will pay for online subscriptions.  Of course people will pay, and so they should.  The question is not if readers will pay for The Times, but rather if other news organizations will follow.

As far as I – and the majority of news followers – are concerned, no other news publication can compare as far as quality and coverage to The Times, a reputation which has not faltered since the launch of its website, NYTimes.com, in the nineties.  With the advent of online news, not only was The Times expected to maintain its printed issues’ reputation, but also to rise to the top in terms of publication speed and interactive content with its website.  No surprise, The Times seems to have done so as it has become the most read online news source today.  NYTimes.com attracts over 17 million readers per month in the United States, according to an article by Richard Pérez-Peña published in The Times on Thursday.

The New York Times Company Logo

So how can anyone expect The Times to continue such superb news coverage without making enough revenue to cover the costs of its quality?  To state the obvious, keeping up with the headlines of today costs money.  There’s a price to pay for top-notch, around the clock reporters, photographers, and editors, not to mention the costs of travel fees, bodyguards, required technology … just to name a few expenses.  Online advertising has not lived up to publications’ hopes, and so it was only a matter of time before The Times asked readers to pay for online subscription in some form.

Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be joyfully reaching for my credit card in 2011 as I fill out the payment tab at NYTimes.com.  I’ll still be in college, and still on a college student budget.  Not to mention the fact that The Times fails to offer any sort of student discount.  But if I have to sacrifice my cinnamon sugar Einstein’s bagel fix for the most thorough and up to date report on what’s happening in Haiti, then farewell, my sugared breakfast friend.

As to how other major news sources will follow The Times bold move, the answer relies mostly on the outcome of The Times’ payment system experiment.  The success of The Times rests on whether or not it can retain its readers’ loyalty by providing a new website that a), offers enough free articles online to keep readers hooked, b), sets an affordable monthly rate for subscribers, and c), makes the transition from free access to paid easy to follow and glitch free.  Should The Times prove victorious, then other publications are bound to try their hands at priced online access as well.  And this is where things get sticky.

With its unmatched quality, The Times in all honesty lacks any real competition, and therefore can afford to take the necessary risks to turn a profit on online readership.  But suppose The Boston Globe establishes some sort of payment system for its website.  Why would readers have any reason to pay for The Globe online when they could just as easily switch over to an arguably comparable news website, like The Boston Herald’s bostonherald.com, for free?

In order for the competition to tread in The Times’ footsteps, revenues earned from online readership must outweigh readers lost to news sites that remain free.  Granted, who’s to say there will be any free news sites left if The Times is successful?  For all I know, The Times’ success might be so widespread that all major news publications require some form of payment for online articles.  Only time will tell, which leaves us faithful readers to wait and wonder about the fate of our beloved NYTimes.com, and all other online news sources, until January 2011.

To read more about The Times’ announcement, click here.

About Rachel Stine

Rachel Stine (COM'12) is the Campus Editor for the Quad. She loves sailing the uncharted waters of BU's campus goings-on to uncover some of its deepest secrets and hidden treasures.

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