New York Times wrestles with online charge method

NEW YORK - The New York Times will announce a decision "within weeks" on how it will charge for content online after wrestling for months with the issue.

The New York Times had been expected to make a decision regarding paid content in the summer, but failed to reach a speedy conclusion of which option to pursue.

In late June Scott Heekin-Canedy, president and general manager of the New York Times, said that a decision about charging for content would be made by late summer.

However no decision was forthcoming and as of last week the paper itself reports Heekin-Canedy said "executives were still studying the issue".

The reason for the delay is simple. Bill Keller, the executive editor, told paper's public editor that the issue of charging had proved a much tougher and more complicated decision "than it seems to all the armchair experts".

"There is no clear consensus on the right way to go," Kellner said, but added that the paper was "within weeks of a decision".

The paper quoted Lauren Rich Fine, a professor at Kent State University and a former Merrill Lynch media analyst as saying that delaying a move to charge for content  was "not smart".

In July Janet Robinson, president and CEO of the New York Times Company said that talks were "centered on a metered model and a Times membership model with special offerings".

But the lack of consensus Kellner talked about suggests that such a plan did not have universal backing from executives at the paper.

Other options on the table include micropayments, charging for premium content and introducing subscription elements. The New York Times is also thought to have spoken to various other newspaper groups about forming a consortium.

The difficulty in reaching a decision will likely have ramifications for the rest of the newspaper industry, which is looking to the New York Times as an indication for what it might try.

Its delay also highlights the fear among newspaper executives of driving away online readers if content is no longer free to access.

The New York Times recently announced it is to cut more than 100 journalists jobs as it seeks to cut costs.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr, the publisher of the New York Times, said the cuts and a decision about charging readers for content were separate issues.

He said that charging for content was a strategic issue that "would have little or no impact on our financial results in the short term, but rather position us differently for long-term growth".

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