The Times of London and its sister publication the Sunday Times are to launch new websites in May and start charging online in June, it was widely reported today. The News International-owned properties will be the first national general interest papers in the UK to charge for digital content.
The new websites will be thetimes.co.uk and thesundaytimes.co.uk, replacing the paper's present digital home timesonline.co.uk and confirming expectations of a stand-alone site for the Sunday paper. A trial period from early May will offer free access to registered customers. From June, users will be charged £1 for a day's access to both sites or £2 for a week's subscription, the NI statement specified. It quoted CEO Rebekah Brooks who described the cost as "a price that everyone can afford."
"At a defining moment for journalism, this is a crucial step towards making the business of news an economically exciting proposition. We are proud of our journalism and unashamed to say that we believe it has value," Brooks said.
"Both will give you the opportunity to enjoy our news like never before," says the paper's website, where readers are invited to register for the complimentary trial. Coverage will be presented "in a more vibrant and stimulating way" than before and "you will be able to ask the questions, engage with the issues, debate with our columnists." Editor of the Times James Harding said that the new Times site "will have all the values of the printed paper and all the versatility of digital media. We want people to do more than just read it - to be part of it."
The site specified that the new Times website would feature a daily live Q&A, exclusive photo galleries and video, interactive graphics and live debates. The Sunday Times site will also offer photo galleries, 'Lunchtime Live' debates, a question time with journalists and a 'Culture Planner.'
The statement confirmed that the weekly subscription will give access to the e-paper and other new applications, and that readers who have a seven-day subscription to the print editions will not be charged extra for access to the websites. A Times article added that international pricing has been set at $2/€1.5 a day or $4/€3 for a week.
Brooks strongly implied that News International's other UK properties, the Sun and the News of the World, will also charge in the near future.
Mobile, e-reader and tablet editions of the papers are on their way, mentioned the statement. As yet, News International properties do not have applications for these devices, unlike many of their competitors.
In October last year, the Times introduced a membership club, Times+, which does not include extra editorial content but instead gives members access to a variety of special offers, including the chance to attend events with the paper's editorial staff. It is not clear if whether is any link between membership of this club and access to the new websites.
Many newspapers have been contemplating charging online as they struggle with lower advertising revenue. Rupert Murdoch, chairman of NI parent company News Corp, announced last year that he intended to charge online at all his newspapers: The Times and Sunday Times are the first step. Murdoch's prize US property the Wall Street Journal, a specialized financial paper, has a successful paid website, and he insists that journalism is valuable enough to pay for.
The WSJ allows free access to a selection of articles each day, and the New York Times plans to implement a metered payment system in early 2011, whereby only the most frequent readers are charged, presumably as a way to maintain advertising income. The Times' decision to go with a thorough paywall - it is not clear whether the homepage will be free or whether access to articles will be available via Google - is a bold step, as is going forward with a stand-alone Sunday website.