It looks as though 1998 might be shaping up as the year where companies increasingly ask their customers to pay for content.
Web sites that were reluctant in the very early days of the Web to charge users for material now appear to be slowly stepping up and asking them to pay either for materials they once got for free or for new materials that were previously unavailable.
Most sites probably will remain free, but companies are getting braver about charging for certain kinds of content. Yesterday, for instance, Microsoft-owned online magazine Slate announced it would be charging users for content starting next year.
And another publishing powerhouse on the Web, the New York Times, this week is starting a beta test in which it is asking users to pay for archived stories.
The Times has always allowed--and still will allow--users to search the day's paper as well as certain sections, such as book, film, and theater reviews and Cyber Times. But during the beta test, users will be able to search 365 days' worth of Times back issues for free. To actually read the stories, however, they will have to pay $2.50 for each article or $9.95 for five downloads within a month.
Eileen Bradley, vice president of operations for the New York Times Electronic Media Company, said the company decided to offer the archives based on user requests.
"This is mostly in response to consumer demand," she said. "It's one of the most requested features from our consumer audience," she said.
She added, however, that it also is "in response to a competitive market."
The Los Angeles Times allows free searches for a week's worth of materials. It then allows users to conduct searches all the way back to 1990 for free and pull up individual stories for $1.50 each.
The San Jose Mercury News also allows seven-day searches for free and only charges $1 per story for anything dating back farther than that. It also lets users search for stories from as far back as 1985.
The Washington Post offers a different approach: it allows free searches of archived stories up to 14 days old, but there apparently is no ability to search back any farther.
Many newspapers, however, such as the San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle at joint site The Gate allow free searches of their archives going back as far as its archives are kept.
But charging for archives should not be seen as a step toward charging for daily content, Bradley said, emphasizing that the Times has no plans to charge a Web subscription to its North American readers. (Nondomestic readers pay $35 per month to read the Times on the Web.)
While the Wall Street Journal is able to charge subscribers to read material on the Web, few other papers are in a similar position. For the New York Times, which has large national home-delivery circulation, charging users on the Web doesn't make sense, Bradley said.