New York Times to Start Charging Up to $8.75 a Week for Digital Access

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Canadians have to pay as of today. The new digital subscription plan rolls out in the U.S. on March 28, 2011.

It’s been talked about for months, and today’s announcement has made it official: The days of free and full access to the NY Times online are coming to an end. In a carefully worded e-mail sent out earlier today, publisher and chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. wrote:

Today marks a significant transition for The New York Times as we introduce digital subscriptions. It’s an important step that we hope you will see as an investment in The Times, one that will strengthen our ability to provide high-quality journalism to readers around the world and on any platform. The change will primarily affect those who are heavy consumers of the content on our Web site and on mobile applications.

Digital subscriptions are being tested out as of today in Canada, and our lucky neighbors to the north get to be guinea pigs before the program spreads globally in a couple of weeks. Casual readers of the Times won’t necessarily have to pay up, according the Sulzberger e-mail:

On NYTimes.com, you can view 20 articles each month at no charge (including slide shows, videos and other features). After 20 articles, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber, with full access to our site.

If you’re wondering if blog posts count in the “article” tally, the answer is yes. Also, if you’re already strategizing how to maximize your Times reading without paying up, it looks like you’ll have to click prudently. Per the Times subscription FAQs

Your free, limited access resets every month: at the beginning of each calendar month, you’ll once again be able to view 20 free articles for that month.

As you get closer to reaching the 20-article maximum each month, a pop-up will appear alerting you to how many free articles you’re allowed in a given month. At some point, non-subscribers may reach a time when they’ve reached the monthly limit but there are only a few days left in the month. At that point, you’ll have to ask yourself a question: How bad do I really want to read this story about Dick Cheney, or Lady Gaga, or Libya, or whatever?

Speaking of which, Times’ subscriptions will be sold in three different packages:

$3.75 per week ($15 every four weeks) for access to nytimes.com and via smartphone app

$5 per week ($20 every four weeks) for access to nytimes.com and via tablet app

$8.75 per week ($35 every four weeks) for access to nytimes.com and via any device or computer

Let the attempts to game the system begin.

Right away, I can see one way. Again, per the Times FAQs, there’s the search engine trick:

When you visit NYTimes.com by clicking links in Google search results, you’ll enjoy up to five free articles per day.

Not that I endorse this sort of behavior or anything, but I’ve heard this is how lots of readers get access to other subscription-only articles (such as those at the Wall Street Journal) without paying for a subscription. The idea is to type part of the story headline into a Google search. You’ll be able to access the story for free in its entirety by clicking on it in the results—provided you haven’t gone over the Times’ five-times-daily limit, of course.

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