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Times Under Fire

The New York Times

may be the paper of record, it might have earned the title 'Gray Lady,' but it cannot escape the changing times. I'm not talking about the fact that that print publications across the board are suffering ad revenue declines and subscription dips.

I'm talking about News Corp Chairman Rupert Murdoch declaring flat out WAR. In the News Corp conference call after the earnings announcement, he said that he wants to improve and tweak The Wall Street Journal so that it can elbow into The New York Times territory, saying he wants "more coverage of national, international and non-business news... to better compete with The New York Times and other national newspapers."

And Murdoch is expected to be aggressive on ad rates and to potentially lower the paper's price, with competitive subscription newsstand rates.

So what's The New York Times to do? Well last week, when Murdoch was busy retrenching and figuring out a new strategy, the New York Post reported that The New York Times is going to drop its subscription service, 'Times Select'. Now more than 97% of The New York Times is free on its website, but for $49.95 per year, readers can get Times Select, online access to columns and editorials from the print edition and the newspapers archive online.

So does the New York Post have an axe to grind? Times spokesperson didn't deny it -- saying that the paper is "always evaluating different approaches." There's been lots of discussion about what Murdoch will do about The Wall Street Journal's successful subscription service, which has about a million subscribers paying as much as $79 a year. The New York Times version never took off like the WSJ's but it has been growing slowly to about 224,580 in June. But I see why they'd want to drop it. Are those quarter million subscribers worth it? Or would they get more out of sharing that content?

How will the Times face Murdoch's growing competition, coupled with an industry-wide decline? It seems like the Ochs-Sulzberger family that controls the company would be unlikely to sell like the Bancrofts did with Dow Jones. I think it's far more likely that the Times will go private, the other tack in this industry. Speaking of which, tomorrow the Tribune Company is having its shareholder vote on its privatization, led by Sam Zell, which looks likely to go through.

What do you think The New York Times will do with its online strategy? Email and let me know!

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.