As we reported over the weekend it would do, the Times announced today that it will switch to a metered pay system for its website. "Starting in early 2011, visitors to NYTimes.com will get a certain number of articles free every month before being asked to pay a flat fee for unlimited access," Times writer Richard Pérez-Peña wrote this morning. "Subscribers to the newspaper’s print edition will receive full access to the site." New York's Gabe Sherman explains that the paper's brass came to this decision after considering a fully paid site, like that of The Wall Street Journal, or one more like the Financial Times', in which casual readers can peruse occasional articles for free, but high-frequency users must pay for access. The latter is the system they settled on. (The camp supporting maintaining a free site was apparently quickly shouted down.)
"This announcement allows us to begin the thought process that's going to answer so many of the questions that we all care about," said New York Times Company chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. "We can’t get this halfway right or three-quarters of the way right. We have to get this really, really right." To that effect, many of the specific details — how much access would cost, and how many visits would be free, for example — have yet to be decided. The paper is treading extremely carefully: Although it has by far the most-read newspaper website in the country, and it is reportedly a far-ahead leader in ad revenue, the last time the paper experimented with a pay wall, the result was unpopular and unsuccessful. Their TimesSelect program shut down after just two years.