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Controversial iTunes subscription plan bags New York Times

Apple has hooked the first major publisher for its iTunes subscription service -- the New York Times, which will go behind a paywall on 28 March.

The New York Times website is going behind the paywall, and it's playing ball with Apple's contentious subscription service to do it. The venerable American broadsheet announced today that it will start charging a monthly fee for visitors to its website, and users of its smart phone and iPad apps.

New York Times apps are available on the iPhone, Android phones and BlackBerries. But the paper is only selling subscriptions through its website and Apple's iTunes store, it told the Wall Street Journal.

Bagging such a huge, prestigious publisher is a major coup for Apple. It could signal a widespread willingness to agree to Apple's terms in exchange for a slice of the millions being spent in the App Store.

Apple raised a ruckus when it announced its subscription model, which makes it easy to subscribe with one click within an app, without being redirected to a website. Paying with your iTunes credit is handy, but Apple takes 30 per cent of the subscription fee, and it doesn't allow publishers to charge more in iTunes than on their own websites.

Music services, which have slim profit margins, were particularly scathing about Apple's raw deal. Rhapsody said it would make some music apps "economically untenable".

But you don't necessarily have to shell out for a taste of the Times. The first 20 articles per month on the website are free, as are the stories that are inluded in the 'Top News' section of the paper's apps.

Interestingly, if you get to the paper from a link in Google, Facebook, Twitter or blogs, you won't have to pay even if you've exceeded your 20-article limit. That's limited to five free articles reached from Google, however.

You'll pay up to $8.75 (£5.40) per week, billed every four weeks, for full access to the paper online and in apps, depending if you want to read on your phone, your iPad, or both. People who already subscribe to the newspaper pay nothing.

Those lucky, beautiful and intelligent Canadians get to try the deal first, just like they did with pizza at McDonalds. The rest of the world will see it on 28 March.