New York Times cuts free reads in half

The company also says that it now has nearly 500,000 paid subscribers to its digital subscription packages.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
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A look at the New York Times' current subscriber options.
A look at the New York Times' current subscriber options Screenshot by Don Reisinger/CNET

The New York Times has cut the number of free online articles that readers are allowed to access per month in half.

The publishing company today said that starting in April readers will be able to access 10 stories for free each month. The New York Times previously allowed its readers to access 20 free stories online. The move is a not-so-subtle attempt on the Times' part to push more of its readers to digital subscriptions.

Those digital paid subscriptions have proven somewhat popular, the Times said. In the last year since they've been available, 454,000 subscriptions have been purchased for access to The New York Times and the International Herald Tribune.

"Last year was a transformative one for The Times as we began to charge for digital access to our content," New York Times Co. chairman and CEO Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said in a statement. "Today, close to a half million people are now paying for digital content from The Times and the IHT."

The New York Times offers several subscription options to customers, depending on how they want to access its content. The cheapest plan, at $15 a month, includes access to the Times Web site and smartphone applications. A $20 plan includes access to the Web site and tablet apps. An all-access pass, which includes the ability to read Times content both online and on a tablet and smartphone, costs $35 per month.

When the Times launched its digital subscription packages last year, the company was met with controversy as some readers indicated that they would stop reading the paper. Others, however, were pleased with the additional access.

That said, the company has been offering an introductory price of 99 cents on its subscriptions for the first four weeks. It's not immediately clear how many people stick with those subscriptions when the fees jump.

Still, it's clear newspapers need to do something. Last month, Mark Perry, a professor at the University of Michigan, revealed that newspaper advertising revenue has fallen off a cliff. In 2011, it's believed total newspaper advertising revenue hit $20.7 billion, its lowest point since 1951 when an inflation-adjusted $19.5 billion was spent on ads.

But perhaps the real question is whether digital subscriptions can stop the bleeding. The Times reported last year that it had 281,000 paid digital subscribers after its service was available for just three months, meaning it added fewer than 200,000 subscribers in the nine months that followed.

Update 7:50 a.m. PT to include more details.