After more than a year of discussions and months of delays, the New York Times finally may be on the verge of announcing — not of implementing, mind you — a metered system that would allow registered users to read some stories free every month while limiting full access to subscribers. But, there’s still one hurdle, according to a report in NY magazine: Arthur Sulzberger, Jr., the paper’s publisher and chairman of the New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) has yet to make his choice known. NY‘s unidentified sources say that could come within days and an announcement could come within weeks, speculating on a connection to Apple’s pending product announcement Jan. 27. (NYTimes.com was a featured player in the first iPhone announcement and has gained a lot of mileage from the connection.) That’s a lot of speculation, and indeed, NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller told MediaMemo the report was “long on speculation.”
But the metered option is probably the least speculative thing about it. The decision was expected as far back as August but execs for the paper and parent New York Times Co. have insisted that they had no deadline on whether to try online subscriptions again and how to do it, if that was the case. One complicating factor as the decision stretched on: an uptick in advertising and traffic at NYTimes.com that may have added some weight to the keep-it-open argument. One newsroom staffer admitted to some wishful thinking that the longer it’s been put off, the greater the possibility it wouldn’t happen.
The Financial Times is offered as the model but that doesn’t mean all of the details will be the same. For instance, the FT version gives registered users 10 articles every 30 days and the last five years of company financial archives but the NYT is looking at a larger number. The FT specializes in financial news, and its offerings are tailored with business intelligence in mind. The NYT will need to fashion plans that appeal to its more general audience, and will need to take its home delivery circulation in mind. The FT‘s premium subscription runs $7.65 a week including newspaper delivery, the e-Edition, the mobile news reader and an exclusive newsletter from Editor Lionel Barber.
A full paywall was never a real option, although I’m sure it was presented as such. At this point, leaving the site completely open isn’t a real option either. The NYT has to prepare for a future where web site circulation makes a meaningful contribution to the costs of running a global news organization or face one that looks more like the Washington Post. TimesSelect died not only because top columnists protested, but because the proponents of “free” could offer an alternative that made more money. The biggest question here is can metered make more money than it displaces?