NY Times to Install Digital Pay Wall in Effort to Boost Subscriptions

In the latest sign of an ailing newspaper industry looking to the web for revenue, the New York Times (NYSE:NYT) said on Thursday it will start charging frequent web visitors $15 a month in an effort to drive subscriptions and offset costs.

Starting on March 28, visitors to NYTimes.com will be able view 20 articles, videos or slideshows a month for free, but will have to pay $15 during the four-week period if they top the threshold. The “Top News” section on its smartphone and tablet apps will remain free of charge.

Home delivery print subscribers to the New York Times and International Herald Tribune will have unlimited digital access, except, for now, e-readers like the Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle and Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS) Nook. Subscribers not on home delivery will have free access up to a defined reading limit.

Once readers click on their 21st article, they will have the option of buying one of three digital news packages: $15 a month for access to the website and a mobile app, $20 a month of web access and an iPad app, and $35 for an all-access plan.

Not all articles will count toward the limit. Readers who come to the Times through links from search, blogs and social media such as Facebook and Twitter will be able to read those article free of charge even if they have reached their monthly limit, though for some search engines such as Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) users will have a daily limit of five free articles.

The move is intended to draw in subscription revenue from the paper’s most loyal readers, while not driving away the casual visitors who make up the vast majority of the site’s traffic.

Newspapers have been offering free web access for years in hopes that the online advertising market would offset costs. While revenue has increased, expenses still outweigh profits, particularly those costs related to the ailing print newspaper industry.

The Times joins other larger news organizations in its effort such as The Wall Street Journal, owned by News Corp. (NASDAQ:NWSA), and Newsday, which charge for access to a majority of their websites.

The Times’ chairman, Arthur Sulzberger, called the move a “significant transition” for the newspaper as it seeks to introduce digital subscriptions.

“It’s an important step that we hope you will see as an investment in The Times, one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform,” he said in a letter to readers.

On Thursday the company rolled out the digital plan to Canadian readers as a test-run. At the month’s end, the initiative will be launched in the U.S. and globally.