MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
Big news today from executives at the New York Times. They announced that they think they have found the right formula and the right moment to do the seemingly impossible: Get people to pay for online news.
NPR's David Folkenflik reports.
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Janet Robinson is CEO of the New York Times Company. She tells NPR these changes are a reflection of how people now consume the news.
Ms. JANET ROBINSON (Chief Executive Officer, New York Times Company): We have to be agnostic in regard to how people digest the news product. We can't force them to buy a print subscription. We can't force them to buy a digital application. We have to be there for them in every venue.
FOLKENFLIK: The Times has embraced what's called a metered approach. Readers can click on as many as 20 different articles, slideshows, or videos a month without paying a cent. A page click through a Google search or a friend's referral via Facebook or Twitter won't count against you.
But if you want more, the paper will charge you $15 each month for access on the Web and the iPhone, $20 for access on the Web, iPad and other tablets or $35 a month for all three platforms. Print subscribers who pay up to $770 a year to read the paper in hard copy will get Web access free.
Times' publisher and board chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr.
Mr. ARTHUR SULZBERGER JR. (Publisher, Board Chairman, New York Times): We're doing it at a time when, unlike so many other news organizations, we are expanding our journalism. We need to support this journalism, and this is how we're going to do it.
FOLKENFLIK: Sulzberger says this is the right approach for the digital age. His family has controlled the paper for more than a century.
Mr. SULZBERGER: This is about the app mentality. People are clearly willing to pay for content and experiences that they consider valuable and important, and we believe we're moving into that world at the right time.
FOLKENFLIK: The paper has an array of special online content and has beefed up some of its regional coverage, striking up partnerships with new not-for-profit news ventures in California's Bay Area, Chicago and Texas as a way of boosting the paper's value to readers across the country.
But few mainstream news organizations have found success in creating pay walls for their websites. Jim Moroney is CEO and publisher of the Dallas Morning News. It introduced a different model this month. Some of his paper's articles are offered free online each day, but most are behind a rigid pay wall. If you don't pay, you can't read them. As Moroney acknowledges, it's a gamble.
Mr. JIM MORONEY (CEO and Publisher, Dallas Morning News): I don't know that I would say that we're confident. I don't think there's any certainty around what we've done. There isn't a whole lot of - in fact, I would say there is no major metropolitan newspaper that has gone at this the way that we have.
FOLKENFLIK: Indeed, conventional wisdom says readers tend to pay only for content that aids their business interests, such as the Financial Press, or that satisfies a strong passion, like sports.
Times executives say their coverage is similarly indispensible. Moroney says the real gamble would be to rely on meager online advertising revenues alone. But he says it may be tough for the Times to succeed.
Mr. MORONEY: They have a little bit more difficult time because they're in a business of producing a lot of content that a lot of other media purveyors are providing, whether they're cable networks, whether they're other national printed publications.
FOLKENFLIK: The Times of London and its sister paper the Sunday Times found their combined online audience plummeted after they put up a strict pay wall, ending up with a relatively small, paying, digital subscriber base.
The New York Times hybrid, mirrored model would ensure the paper's reports still enjoyed relatively wide online distribution. But that doesn't convince Emily Bell, the past director of digital content for the Guardian in the U.K. She's now the director for the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia. Bell argues the Times squandered money and energy better spent creating other revenue streams.
Ms. EMILY BELL (Director, Tow Center for Digital Journalism, Columbia University): And that I think is the real tragedy of it, that it's become a dominant strategy for people to examine and pursue. And it's too expensive, and it returns too little, and it actually hastens decline. It seems to hasten decline.
FOLKENFLIK: Sulzberger says the New York Times Company is in a test-and-learn phase. It'll tweak the system as needed.
The metered system took effect this morning in Canada, as a dress rehearsal for American users. The meter starts running in the U.S. and around the rest of the world on March 28th.
David Folkenflik, NPR News, New York.
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