4. Hitting the Wall

New York Times Co. ( NYT) tore down a short-lived subscription wall.

The New York-based newspaper publisher said Wednesday it will stop charging for online access to its columnists and news archives. The move came two years to the day after the Times rolled out a widely questioned plan to charge $50 annually for those features as part of an offering called TimesSelect.

Some skeptics wondered at the time whether the Times would succeed in getting readers to pay for columns, though the company brushed off those worries.

"This is a great new product," the company said back in September 2005. "TimesSelect provides our readers with unique access to some of the newspaper's most influential and popular columnists as well as a way for members to communicate with the columnists. It also opens the door to one of the world's most extensive newspaper archives in an affordable way."

Many readers declined to open the door, however. The Times said TimesSelect "certainly met and exceeded our goals," but the paid subscriber rolls flattened out this year at around 227,000. The company, which has been hit hard by a downturn in newspaper advertising, concluded it risked surrendering valuable online ad revenue by continuing the service.

But it's not that trying TimesSelect was a mistake. No, just as rolling out TimesSelect was an exciting and uplifting moment, so was consigning the little-used service to the scrap heap.

"Advertisers see the enormous value in making our site open and free to everyone," the company said Wednesday. "With the removal of the pay wall, the audience potential at NYTimes.com, already the No. 1 newspaper Web site in the United States, is vast."

As is the opportunity for more mealy-mouthed corporate-speak.

Dumb-o-Meter score: 82. "Because of online users' growing reliance on search in order to navigate the Web," a statement said Wednesday, "NYTimes.com expects to see a substantially increased number of unique users referred to and accessing the site once the pay wall is gone."

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