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New York Times tucks skirt behind stilted paywall

Gray Lady asks regular readers to cough up $15 a month

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Regular readers of the online version of the New York Times will be asked to pay for a monthly subscription to the newspaper after perusing 20 articles on the site for free.

On 28 March the Gray Lady will begin charging frequent visitors to its website.

The newspaper described the "loyal readers" paywall as a "bet" based on the assumption that regular visitors to the NYTimes.com website will agree to part with cash for the privilege of gaining access-to-all-areas.

NYT's decision to open up 20 articles per month for free to more casual visitors is a relatively generous move, which highlights the publication's acknowledgement that those readers "make up the vast majority of the site's traffic".

Readers who click on their 21st article within a given month will only be able to proceed browsing the site's stories if they buy one of three digital news packages, said the paper.

The Financial Times has a similar subs model already in place.

A $15 sub grants a user one month's worth of access to the website and a mobile phone app. Anyone wanting the same service via their iPad will be required to divvy up $20, while a so-called "all-access plan" costs $35 per month.

Those readers who still enjoy the dead tree version of the NYT as delivered to their homes by a paperboy or gal will get won't have to pay twice to get unlimited access across most of the paper's digital platforms, with the exception of e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook.

"This move is an investment in our future," said the company's chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr.

"The challenge now is to put a price on our work without walling ourselves off from the global network, to make sure we continue to engage with the widest possible audience."

The newspaper doesn't want to alienate all comers, however. So those visiting the site via search engines such as Google and social networks such as Facebook will get limited access of five stories per day.

Ahead of the arrival of the NYT's free 20-article per month limit, Canadian readers will from today act as the guinea pigs for the service.

The newspaper used to charge for its content and only stopped doing so in 2007. In January 2010, execs at the company said discussions over the move to a paywall had been going on for almost a year and were not a reaction to the downturn in advertising spending.

Today the NYT acknowledged the "fragile condition of the industry... Even as other media have recovered, newspapers have seen little bright side from the end of the recession," it said. ®

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