Until recently, The New York Times shared virtually all of its content for free, in a program called TimesSelect. That’s about to change, as The Times switches to a "metered" model of charging its most frequent readers:

All visitors to NYTimes.com will have full access to the home page. In addition, readers will be able to read individual articles through search sites like Google, Yahoo and Bing without charge. After that first article, though, clicking on subsequent ones will count toward the monthly limit. Among the nation’s largest newspapers, only The Wall Street Journal and Newsday charge for access to major portions of their Web sites. A few smaller ones also do, including The Financial Times, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and The Albuquerque Journal, and more are expected to join their ranks this year.

Today, The Times posted a Q&A with Janet L. Robinson, president and chief executive of the company, and Martin A. Nisenholtz, senior vice president for digital operations, about the model is its implications for readers and journalism. Shareable highlights:

Q. I just wonder, if charging people to view articles didn’t work a few years ago, why do they think it will work this time? — Kajikit, FL

A. We learned a lot from our earlier version of a pay model, TimesSelect. We learned, for example, that people will pay for content online, particularly for a robust package of high quality Times content. We also learned that you have to carefully weigh the benefits of an advertising and a subscription model. And we learned that many NYTimes.com users believe what differentiates us is our journalism, the depth and breadth of our reporting and analysis.

Also there have been many developments in the online space since we took down TimesSelect. The tools and technologies that enable frictionless commerce have improved dramatically and fallen in price. We believe our customers are ready for this new model. Services like iTunes have paved the way for users to pay for digital content. And based on our research we now believe that a significant number of our best customers are willing to pay for access to the entire Web site, if they are not getting it free as a benefit of subscribing to the newspaper.

Q. What about posting articles to Facebook and other social media? Would friends without a subscription then not be able to view an article that I think is relevant for them? — Julie, Pinole CA

A. Yes, they could continue to view articles. If you are coming to NYTimes.com from another Web site and it brings you to our site to view an article, you will have access to that article and it will not count toward your allotment of free ones.

To me, this is an interesting and promising model. It makes most of the news shareable and available for free, as a public service, while at the same time charging professional and amateur news junkies–people like me. The plan responds to the imperatives of technological sharing while still asking its core of readers to support the news-gathering on which they rely.

As I read the Q&A, I recalled a conversation I once had with a cabbie–in fact, she was taking me to interview for the job I now hold as editor of this site. During the ride, I mentioned that I read The Times online.

"What?!" she cried, instantly enraged. "People like you are destroying journalism!"


She started waving around a rolled-up copy of The San Francisco Chronicle, from which many friends had recently been laid off.

"Because you’re not paying for it!"

"Well, you know, I am a journalist. In fact, I’m getting laid off this month, and you’re driving me to a job interview right now."

She got quiet.

"Well, people should pay for the news. We need the news. You should have a job!"

"I agree. But you know, journalists are the biggest consumers of free news, and the biggest sharers of news. That’s why we can’t go back; everyone knows have to figure out a new way to pay for news media."

I probably don’t need to belabor the multiple levels of irony in this conversation. My point is this: It makes sense to me to charge people like me for reading The Times–or to be more exact, to charge my employer–while making it free to most of the public.

What do you think? Would you pay for The New York Times? Will your employer? What about your city paper–would you pay for that? Do you think this model will be widely adopted–or fade into obscurity, like so many other brave new business models before it? 

Jeremy Adam Smith


Jeremy Adam Smith

Jeremy Adam Smith is the editor who helped launch Shareable.net. He's the author of The Daddy Shift (Beacon Press, June 2009); co-editor of The Compassionate Instinct (W.W. Norton

Things I share: Mainly babysitting with other parents! I also share all the transportation I can, through bikes and buses and trains and carpooling.