The Times they are a chargin'

For Web content

The Times and Sunday Times are planning to charge for content on their Web sites, making them the first UK newspapers to attempt a subscription model.

Starting off quietly by charging £10 a year for access to the Times crossword, various "premium" services will gradually be introduced, each complete with a subscription fee.

The paper has said it has no plans to charge for basic content, pulled straight off the paper and put on the site, but it will probably go for the model used by others that require you to sign up for archived stories i.e. stories more than a week or month old. Then it'll stick a fee on it.

News International - the company that owns both papers as well as the Sun and News of the World - is hoping to make some money back from its disastrous forays in the Internet market. However, it is helped by the fact that the Times' search engine is excellent and the paper retains at least some of its tradition as a paper of record.

It seems unlikely News International's tabloid sites will follow suit (why would you want to pay to read a story about a woman that got her head stuck in a bucket and her husband thought she was a burglar from back in 1993?)

A spokeswoman for the papers did accept that readers would migrate elsewhere but felt that many would stay loyal. She then mentioned the word "brand", so we stopped listening. The Times site currently gets about one million unique users a month.

The reason why this is interesting though is that no one has tried it before. Of course, the widely quoted examples of subscriptions are the Wall Street Journal and the Economist. The WSJ has made a success of its subscription model but then that's because businesses cough up the fee rather than individuals. Our pet theory is also that people pay for it so they don't have to try to read the bloody thing. It's one of the few publications in existence that is actually eminently more readable on the Net than it is on paper.

As for the Economist, well that's a weekly and contains a huge array of extremely useful facts and figures. Its model has to be entirely different to a national newspaper's.

If it's a success, we will suddenly see a lot more of it as the FT, Guardian and Daily Telegraph dive in there. Ain't it good to see new Internet business models still developing? ®

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