"All the news that's fit to print" may soon be reduced to "all the news that we'll give you for free" as the New York Times appears almost ready take a new and more aggressive stab at convincing readers its content is worth paying for.
Whatever the Times does will be widely watched--and imitated if successful--by the world's beleaguered newspapers, reeling from advertising revenue lost to the Internet and, especially, to Google.
This will not be the first time the Times has explored paid content, and it does currently charge $175-a-year for a digital edition and per-story fees for archive material. But, multiple published sources have speculated that the paper might make an announcement by month's end on how it will erect a paywall between would-be readers and some of its highly-regarded content.
The Times Company said it has been examining other sites' paid content models, but would not announce its plan until "we believe that we have crafted the best possible business approach," according to a spokeswoman.
Business readers are used to paying for content, at least if they expect a full daily online dose of the Wall Street Journal. The Times is thought to be considering a model similar to the Journal in which some content is free but a subscription is required to access the full site.
Where to draw the line is a critical issue for the Times, which badly needs to find new online revenue. Yet, it must also make new subscription revenue more than offset money lost from advertisers when non-paying customers are locked-out and page views decrease.
It is also important for the newspaper to pick a price that works for both readers and its business model. The Journal has been successful charging $1.99-a-week for its online edition, less when ordered with a print subscription. Few publishers have been able to copy its success.
The Times might opt for such a payment scheme or could chose a per-story payment model. There are other options, but each depends on readers being willing to do something that, thus far, few have been willing to do: Pay for online content.
Long-term, if serious American journalism is to survive, some new revenue model must be found. If the Times chooses some reasonable payment scheme, as a daily reader, I'll sign-up.
That many other readers will join me is doubtful, at least if past experience is any guide. Still, something's got to give before the Times and other great newspapers give out.
(Some have suggested that e-readers might be the salvation of newspapers. I'm doubtful).