New York Times Unveils Pay Site Plan - TheStreet

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- What could Weight Watchers (WTW) - Get Report teach the print-news media about saving itself from insolvency?

Ask the

New York Times

(NYT) - Get Report

, which unveiled on Wednesday its long-awaited plan to charge for access to its Web site. Executives at the old Gray Lady spent the last year analyzing other pay sites for clues on what works and what doesn't -- and one of those was the site operated by the diet-program outfit that promises to shrink your waistline.

The Times also looked at

Disney's

(DIS) - Get Report

ESPN,

Consumer Reports

and more than two dozen other businesses and content-providers that have Web sites sequestered behind pay walls.

The result of the Times' survey? It will establish a so-called "metered model," under which users will get free access to a set number of articles each month, after which they'll need to fork over money. The plan will begin about a year from now, in early 2011. Subscribers to the print editions will continue to have free access to the entire Times site.

Crucial details were missing from the announcement (the Times says it will release information as it refines its plan). For instance, how many articles will readers get for free? What's the price tag? And will users pay on a per-story basis, or will they simply subscribe to the site? Or will it be some combination? The most notable metered-plan media outlet is probably the

Financial Times

, which gives users a menu of options combining per-article fees and subscriptions to certain sections or the whole of its content.

As with all media companies, the Times has struggled with collapsing ad revenue amid the recession and what many believe is an epochal shift in the reading habits of the human race.

Web ads, meanwhile, once proclaimed as the savior of free Internet content, have become unwatchable commodities that haven't come close to making up for lost revenue from print ads. All news-media companies, therefore, have been rushing to figure out how to profit from the Internet. So far, they've failed to do so.

The Times, which lost $75 million in the most-recent quarter and has about $1 billion in debt, has experimented with pay models before, including the ill-fated Times Select, which attempted to sell readers on paying up for premium Web content, such as access to articles by the paper's most popular columnists.

Times shares were trading Wednesday $13.44, down nearly 2%, on light volume. The stock set a new a 52-week high of $14.87 last week.

-- Written by Scott Eden in New York

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Scott Eden has covered business -- both large and small -- for more than a decade. Prior to joining TheStreet.com, he worked as a features reporter for Dealmaker and Trader Monthly magazines. Before that, he wrote for the Chicago Reader, that city's weekly paper. Early in his career, he was a staff reporter at the Dow Jones News Service. His reporting has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Men's Journal, the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, and the Believer magazine, among other publications. He's also the author of Touchdown Jesus (Simon & Schuster, 2005), a nonfiction book about Notre Dame football fans and the business and politics of big-time college sports. He has degrees from Notre Dame and Washington University in St. Louis.