A Tale Of Two Timeses: A New York Meter, A London Wall

They may share both a name and new online fees, but onlookers shouldn’t confuse the new access models of The New York Times and Britain’s The Times. Though each is historically the “paper of record” in their respective countries, each online strategy is quite different – but each may be just as instructive…

NYTimes.com (NYSE: NYT) weekday visitors may be down by five to 15 percent since it introduced some charges, according to Hitwise. But, across the Atlantic, that kind of result would be considered a huge victory.

For, whilst NYTimes.com introduced a meter by which more than 20 on-site articles per month and full mobile access costs between $15 and $35 per month, News Corp.’s UK title last summer opted for a blunter instrument – no free content; an across-the-board fee of £8.67 per month (or £1 a day). One analyst calls it not so much a “paywall” as a “Berlin wall“; you’re either in or out.

Relative to this backdrop, NYTimes.com’ approach is the have-your-cake-and-eat-it strategy. Britain’s The Times has deliberately shed the vast majority of its visitors – many of whom, common to most news sites, had always been fleeting, coming in from search and other sources – and is now pitching to advertisers the “quality” of its much smaller audience. In contrast, NYTimes.com can retain a higher proportion of its page views for advertisers and gain new paying customers. Crucially, NYTimes.com can also retain influence, something many think The Times has lost online.

The Times‘ new fees, implemented by James Murdoch, are emblematic of the confidence News Corp has in the path trodden by its BSkyB (NYSE: BSY) pay-TV operator, which, 20 years after launching amid scepticism it could succeed in the UK’s entirely-free broadcasting ecosystem, has racked up over 10 million customers who each cough up an average £541 per year.

Eight months in, The Times, which once had over 10 million monthly uniques, has 79,000 digital-only subscribers. But the bigger prize for it is twofold – first, snagging new readers on iPad, a medium News Corp thinks could ultimately replace print; second, bundling, gifting digital access with a print subscription to put a healthier spin on total circulation (ie. shrinking print plus growing digital).

Meanwhile, the New York Times just announced that it has more than 100,000 paying digital subs in the scant weeks since its global launch.

For each title, the model is philosophically steadfast. But each title’s publisher is open-minded. NYTCo’s own Worcester Telegram & Gazette, for example employs a meter, too, but with fewer free articles and loopholes than its bigger, eponymous stablemate.

Within News Corp (NSDQ: NWS). there isn’t unanimity about the flavour of paid content it’s concocted in the UK – even WSJ.com lets many articles go free, and News Corp.’s own Australian division seems set to eschew the British one-big-wall approach for something it says is more like WSJ. Even in Blighty, News Corp.’s mass market The Sun, Britain’s highest-selling newspaper, still hasn’t yet shown its hand on just which model it will adopt.