In 2011, We'll Pay to Read The New York Times Online

The New York Times announced that it will start charging frequent online readers who do not subscribe to the newspaper. Rather than exhume the TimesSelect experiment from last decade, which built a paywall around the op-ed columnists and long feature pieces, the new pay-to-read strategy borrows from the Financial Times:

Starting in early 2011, visitors to will get a certain number of articles free every month before being asked to pay a flat fee for unlimited access. Subscribers to the newspaper's print edition will receive full access to the site.

This is the right decision.

I have nothing much to add on this post from yesterday, but I do want to reiterate that this move underlines the slow shift away from ad-supported media. Ads aren't going away. But online ad rates can't support titanic publications like the Times. In the future online newspapers are going to use advertising less like a rolling walker, and more like a cane. In other words, advertising will continue to help papers move toward their revenue goals, but the days are over when publishers could lean on them and expect to stay upright. Here's what I wrote:

'There's a deeper story here. It's nothing less than the slow death of advertising revenue. For the first time ever, the NYT is making more money from circulation than advertising. Next year, the FT expects content revenue -- "cover price rises, online charging and corporate clients" -- will eclipse ads. Worrying about traffic numbers and ad figures is important, but it's becoming secondary. A newspaper like the New York Times -- with a monstrous staff reporting stories, writing pieces, taking pictures, and designing original multimedia and graphics -- cannot stand on a foundation of freeloading readership. The survival of the news business requires readers to (re-)learn that the news is a business that produces a product -- that has a price.'