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New York Times to start charging for Web access in 2011

NEW YORK -- The New York Times says it will charge readers for full access to its Web site starting in 2011, a risky move aimed at drawing more revenue online without driving away advertisers that want the biggest possible audience.

The potential pitfalls have made most other major newspapers hesitant to take a similar step. But after months of deliberation, the Times said Wednesday it will use a metered system, allowing free access to a certain number of articles and then charging users for additional content.

Shares in The New York Times Co. fell 4 percent in afternoon trading.

The Times did not disclose how many articles will be available for free or what it will charge to read more. Subscribers to the printed version of the Times would still have free access to the Web site.

It would not be the first time the newspaper has asked readers to pay for its online articles.

It charged for its Web site in 1996 but attracted only about 4,000 subscribers. Another experiment called Times Select, which required a $50 annual subscription to read Times columnists, drew 221,000 customers but was scrapped in 2007 because it dented ad sales. Advertisers generally pay more for higher Web traffic.

The goal of a metered system is to draw casual readers with free articles while getting fees from people who want to go deeper on the site.

The plan would not stop search engines from cataloging the newspaper's Web site, so its articles could still benefit from the traffic generated by search results.

The Times said it will use 2010 to build a new online infrastructure for charging readers on different platforms, not just personal computers. For instance, the newspaper can be read for free through an application on Apple's iPhone. But the Times did not specify its plans for mobile editions.

In a statement, New York Times Co. CEO Janet Robinson said the company is ''guided by the fact that our news and information are being featured in an increasingly broad range of end-user devices and services, and our pricing plans and policies must reflect this vision.''