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The trend towards coughing up free online news continued apace yesterday following the New York Times's decision to drop charges on its website.

Rupert Murdoch also waded into the debate, perhaps looking to grab a few column inches and clicks for the Wall Street Journal which will fall into the News Corp boss's lap once his $5bn takeover of Dow Jones has completed.

The Times said it had changed its stance from offering an online subscription-based news service to allowing readers access to its entire website from today after spotting an opportunity to raise revenue through advertising.

The newspaper said that its paid-for website, which launched two years ago, had drawn 227,000 paying subscribers at an annual cost of $49.95 that pulled in $10m a year in revenue.

However, compared to the growth of online advertising, the Times senior VP and general manager of the site Vivian L. Schiller said "our projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low".

The newspaper added that many readers had linked to the site via search engines such as Google and Yahoo! but had then been blocked from gaining further access by the "pay wall".

Explaining the rationale behind its decision, the Times also quoted figures from media watcher Nielsen/NetRatings which reckoned the newspaper has 13 million unique visitors each month.

According to the Financial Times, whose own online offering charges readers wanting access to select material on its website, Murdoch said that dropping charges on the WSJ site was "right on the front burner" of his plans for the online edition.

The media tycoon added that while cutting out its subscription service could see a short-term revenue loss of about $30m, he reckoned that opening up the WSJ site by using the online advertising business model would generate a much larger readership. Um, perhaps he's been reading El Reg. ®

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