BREAKING: NY Times meter starts in 2011

A metered system to charge frequent visitors to its Website will begin in early 2011, Richard Pérez-Peña reports in the Times’ Media Decoder blog. Print edition subscribers will get a free pass.

The New York Times announced Wednesday that it intended to charge frequent readers for access to its Web site, a step being debated across the industry that nearly every major newspaper has so far feared to take.

Starting in early 2011, visitors to NYTimes.com will get a certain number of articles free every month before being asked to pay a flat fee for unlimited access. Subscribers to the newspaper’s print edition will receive full access to the site.

But executives of The New York Times Company said they could not yet answer fundamental questions about the plan, like how much it would cost or what the limit would be on free reading. They stressed that the amount of free access could change with time, in response to economic conditions and reader demand.

“This announcement allows us to begin the thought process that’s going to answer so many of the questions that we all care about,” Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the company chairman and publisher of the newspaper, said in an interview. “We can’t get this halfway right or three-quarters of the way right. We have to get this really, really right.”

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