Summary:

The Canadians always complain they don’t get things first. Well, this time they’re at the head of the line. The New York Times (NYSE: NYT) d…

New York Times
photo: Flickr / Omad

The Canadians always complain they don’t get things first. Well, this time they’re at the head of the line. The New York Times (NYSE: NYT) digital subscriptions kick in there today; March 28 for the rest of us, allowing the NYT to avoid April Fools’ jokes. (We reported this morning that the long-awaited announcement could come as early as today.)

Canada is the testing ground, giving the Times roughly 10 days to fine-tune the complicated product — and the message — before it goes global. Canadians can pay 99 cents a week for four the first four weeks,

Access is cut off after 20 article views in a month; the three plans for non-print subscribers start at $15 a month. Home delivery subscribers will get full access to the site and the full content of certain apps; the Times has been a long-time believer in the concept of adding value to its expensive print subscriptions through bundles. Access to TimesSelect was included, for instance, as were earlier efforts to create additional revenue digitally. But the all-access pass doesn’t include everything; the e-edition and the premium crosswords online/apps are excluded. (Drat.)

As promised, the Times has tried to carve out as much space as possible for links to its stories. In a letter to NYTimes.com registered users that just went out, Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. explains:

Readers who come to Times articles through links from search, blogs and social media like Facebook and Twitter will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit. For some search engines, users will have a daily limit of free links to Times articles.

That should make access to far more than 20 articles a month possible — and should quiet some of the people who claim the Times is walling itself off or becoming irrelevant. Registered users can see how many stories they read here.

Access to some news stays open: The Times also has carved out spaces that will remain free. At NYTimes.com that includes the home page and all section fronts, blog fronts and classifieds; for mobile apps, the “Top News” sections will be accessible.

Complying with Apple: The Times promises to add one-click access in iOS apps by June 30 , which gives it a head start to get as many users as possible converted to subscriptions before the 30 percent share with Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) kicks in.

Full press release below; more to come.

From the release:

The New York Times announced today that it is launching digital subscriptions, which will affect some users of its award-winning Web site, NYTimes.com, and its applications for smartphone and tablet. The subscription plan allows for free access to a set amount of content across digital platforms. When the monthly reading limit is reached, users who are not already home delivery subscribers will be asked to become digital subscribers.

Digital subscriptions will be available in the United States and globally on March 28, 2011. The Times is launching digital subscriptions in the Canadian market beginning today in order to fine-tune the customer experience prior to the global launch.

For non-home delivery subscribers, the basic package – NYTimes.com plus Smartphone App – will start at $15 every four weeks. The NYTimes.com plus Smartphone App package is currently available for purchase by users in Canada. On March 28, the global launch, The Times will offer three digital subscription packages, all of which include access to the Web site. Details are outlined below.

In making today’s announcement, Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., chairman of The New York Times Company and publisher of The New York Times, said, “Today marks a significant transition for The Times, an important day in our 159-year history of evolution and reinvention. Our decision to begin charging for digital access will result in another source of revenue, strengthening our ability to continue to invest in the journalism and digital innovation on which our readers have come to depend. This move will enhance The Times’s position as a source of trustworthy news, information and high-quality opinion for many years to come.”

Janet L. Robinson, president and chief executive officer of The New York Times Company, added, “As the market for and delivery of digital content evolves, we believe that supplementing advertising revenue with digital subscription revenue makes tremendous sense. The step we are taking today will further improve our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers across the world on any platform, while maintaining the large and growing audience that supports our robust advertising business.”

Details about the digital subscription:

* All users of NYTimes.com are able to enjoy 20 articles at no charge each month (including slideshows, videos and other forms of content). Beyond 20 articles and for open access to the site, users will be asked to become digital subscribers.

* On The Times’s smartphone and tablet applications, the Top News section will remain free. To delve deeper into the apps’ other sections, users will be asked to become digital subscribers.

* The Times is offering three digital subscription packages that allow users to choose the devices on which they want to access Times content. NYTimes.com will be included as part of any subscription. Details and pricing for these plans is available at http://www.nytimes.com/access. Introductory offers will be available.

* All New York Times home delivery newspaper subscribers receive free, unlimited access* to NYTimes.com and the full content on all of The Times’s applications. Home delivery subscribers can go to http://homedelivery.nytimes.com to sign up for free access.

* Readers who come to Times articles through links from search, blogs and social media will be able to access those individual articles, even if they have reached their reading limit. For some search engines, users will have a daily limit of free links to Times articles.

* The homepage at NYTimes.com and all section fronts will remain free to browse for all users at all times.

In keeping with Apple’s new subscription service terms, The Times will make 1-click purchase available in the App Store by June 30 to ensure that readers can continue to access Times apps on Apple devices.

Subscribers to the print edition of the International Herald Tribune, the global edition of The New York Times, will receive free, unlimited access* to NYTimes.com.

For more details about The Times’s digital subscriptions, go to http://www.nytimes.com/access, or see the FAQ’s: http://www.nytimes.com/digitalfaq.

*Mobile apps are not supported on all devices. Does not include e-reader editions, Premium Crosswords or The New York Times Crosswords apps. Other restrictions apply.

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