Nisenholtz of ‘NYT’ Defends Online Fee Plan at Conference

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(AP) The New York Times Co.’s decision to charge for online access to Op-Ed and news columnists should not be seen as a first step toward placing even more articles behind a subscription wall, a Times executive said Tuesday.

Martin Nisenholtz, senior vice president for the Times’ digital operations, said the newspaper settled on charging for columnists after a “very robust discussion inside the company.”

“There were people arguing to put the entire thing in,” Nisenholtz said. “There were people arguing to put none of it in. … I think we’ve made the decision we’ve made for the foreseeable future.”

His remarks at the Syndicate conference on aggregation and syndication technologies came a day after the Times announced plans to charge $49.95 a year for non-print subscribers to read the columns. Access comes free for home delivery subscribers.

Available beginning Sept. 19, the TimesSelect subscription will also come with an early look at some articles, including those in the Real Estate and the Magazine sections, and access to the Times’ online archives, eventually going back to 1851. Non-subscribers to TimesSelect would pay up to $2.95 for each article older than a week.

Most of the news, features, and multimedia items will remain free.

Response from the Internet community was mixed.

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, who runs the popular Daily Kos online journal, complained that bloggers like him no longer would be able to link to the columnists for free. Those columnists, he said, will gradually lose their influence as bloggers stop recapping their opinions.

“We like to link to source material,” Moulitsas said, adding that anything behind a subscription wall might as well not exist in the blogosphere.

Nisenholtz said the Times is considering a revenue-sharing program to give bloggers incentives to keep linking. Saying the idea is still in early discussions, Nisenholtz envisions a way to pay blogs and Web sites every time one of their links prompts a reader to sign up for TimesSelect.

News organizations have been struggling to reap revenues online for content they normally sell in newspapers and magazines. Most sites are supported by advertising but have avoided charging fees to read current articles.

The Wall Street Journal is the exception among major news organizations, charging $39 a year for print subscribers and $79 for others.

Besides the archives, the Times already charges for crossword puzzles and an e-mail alert service for tracking specific issues or keywords. The e-mail alerts will be free with TimesSelect.

Nisenholtz said the Times already reaps more than $1 million a year from the archives and expects the new subscription to top that, though he would not elaborate.

The company wanted to pair the archives with exclusive content “powerful enough to attract people” but allow the Times to keep most of its site free, he said.

“The columnists are the most distinctive voices in the paper, the best known bylines,” he said, “and therefore in a sense attractive to me from a pay perspective.”

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