New York Times Considers Two Plans to Charge for Content on the Web

sulzberger 1 New York Times Considers Two Plans to Charge for Content on the WebBy the end of June, The New York Times will come to a decision on how to charge for some of its content on the Web, The Observer has learned.

Executive editor Bill Keller said at a meeting with staff on Wednesday that two proposals are being strongly considered.

One includes a “meter system,” in which the reader can roam freely on the Web site until hitting a predetermined limit of word-count or pageviews, after which a meter will start running and the reader is charged for movement on the site thereafter. He warned staff at the meeting that this pay model would be “tricky.” If the word-count limit or page-view limit is set too low, it could chase readers off, compromising traffic and advertising revenue. He said the site presently makes “a lot, a lot of money” from digital advertising—though he wouldn’t specify how much—and that executives at the paper believe it is “substantially more” than The Wall Street Journal currently makes on a subscription-based pay model. On the other hand, he said, set these bars too high and there will be little improvement in revenue.

Mr. Keller described the second proposal as a “membership” system. In this model, readers pledge money to the site and are invited into a “New York Times community.” You write a check, you get a baseball cap or a T-shirt (if it’s like Channel Thirteen, a tote bag!), an invite to a Times event, or perhaps, like The Economist, access to specialized content on the Web. He said he wouldn’t even be opposed to offering a donor access to a Page One editorial meeting as long as it doesn’t affect the paper competitively.

He said that the masthead and executives hope to reach a decision by the end of June, but after a decision is reached it would then take weeks, perhaps even months, to develop the software to make either of these systems possible. He said that it is possible that a pay model may be applied to The Times’ mobile Web site first before the Web site as a whole. He also warned staffers at the internal meeting—the semi-annual newsroom meeting he hosts, informally titled “Throw Stuff at Bill”—that this was an “update” on where the paper is leaning and that no firm decisions have been made.

Either way, the clock is ticking.

As Mr. Keller said at the meeting, during these times “you ask people to make sacrifices on pay, you consolidate sections, you sell your building and take out some loans, you sell ads on A-1, you raise the price of the newspaper.”

At the same meeting on Wednesday, Scott Heekin-Canedy, the general manager of the New York Times Company, said that the forecasts for the second quarter are looking roughly the same as the company’s dismal results in the first quarter. In the first quarter, the New York Times Company lost $74.5 million.