Newspapers have had mixed success in charging for access on the Web where many readers expect to get information for nothing. A key problem is finding a charging system that does not drive away so many users that the newspaper site loses its attraction for advertisers.
Charging might be risky, "but it's less of a risk than just throwing away our journalism and giving it away for free," James Harding, editor of The Times, said in a BBC radio interview.
Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. , parent company of News International, announced in August that all titles would move to charging for Web access. News Corp. owns the Wall Street Journal, which has one of the most successful pay-for-news Web sites. It had an average of 407,000 electronic subscribers during the six months ending Sept. 30.
The Wall Street Journal offers 1-year subscriptions for $1.99 per week. The newspaper said last week that it plans to offer a version for Apple's iPad at $17.99 per month.
Murdoch said in November that he was looking for ways to block Google from using news content from his companies in search indexes including Google News.
News International's chief executive, Rebekah Brooks, indicated that paid subscriptions would also be introduced for The Sun and News of the World, but did not say when.
A Pew Research Center report released this month suggests that online news customers are not intensely loyal to a particular source. About 35 percent in the U.S. survey said they had a favorite site, with TV network sites and news aggregators leading the pack. Of those that had a favorite site, only a fifth said they would continue using it if they had to pay.
The New York Times, which abandoned two previous attempts to charge for access, announced in January that it would impose a metered charging system in 2011. This would allow free access to a few stories, but paid subscriptions would be needed for full access to the newspaper's content.
That is similar to the system adopted by the London-based Financial Times. The newspaper charges 3.05 pounds per week (or $3.49 in the United States) for a Web-only subscription; subscribers to the print edition can add Internet access for 1 pound per week.
Pearson, publisher of the Financial Times, reported a 43 percent rise in subscription income from www.ft.com in 2009, with the number of subscribers up 15 percent to 126,000.
The Times' Web site trails the U.K. market leader, Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Daily Mail, which recorded an average of 2.27 million browsers per day in February, compared to 1.22 million for The Times, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations Electronic.
The Guardian logged 1.87 million daily browsers and Daily Telegraph/Sunday Telegraph had 1.55 million.