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New York Times to stop charging fees for access to columnists, other material on Web site

September 17, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) – The New York Times said Monday it is scrapping a two-year-old program to charge fees for access to parts of its Web site, including op-ed columnists and archives dating back to 1987.

As of midnight Tuesday, the Times will discontinue its TimesSelect feature, which cost $49.95 per year or $7.95 by the month. Home delivery subscribers were able to sign up for free.

The move reflects a growing shift in thinking in the media industry, where it had once been thought that charging for access to some or all of a Web site was the best strategy for making money.

But in recent years, the amount of money being spent on online advertising has been surging, offering other alternatives for making profits online.

Two years after its September 2005 launch, TimesSelect had 227,000 online-only paying customers, while another 471,200 received it for free as a benefit of their home delivery subscriptions. Another 89,200 received it for free on college campuses, for a total base of 787,400.

”A lot has changed since the time we launched TimesSelect,” Vivian Schiller, the manager of NYTimes.com, said in an interview Monday.

Among other things, the Times found ways to fine-tune the way search engines combed articles at the site, offering new opportunities to build online traffic, Schiller said. She also said many more users were coming to the site after being directed there by search engines such as Google Inc.’s.

Among other newspapers, Pearson PLC’s Financial Times charges for access to some of its Web site, and The Wall Street Journal has the largest paid online base with about 1 million users, but that strategy is also being reconsidered and could be one of several changes under the Journal’s new owner, Rupert Murdoch, whose media conglomerate News Corp. has agreed to buy Dow Jones & Co. for $5 billion.

While it was running, using TimesSelect was the only way to get online access to several news and opinion columnists at the Times, including all of its op-ed columnists.

As of midnight Tuesday, access to nearly all of the material that had been limited to TimesSelect users will be free. Article archives going back the last 20 years will be free, and so will older archives from 1851 and 1923, which are in the public domain. The Times will still charge a fee for access to archived stories published between 1923 and 1986.

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