Well, it finally happened: A substantial crack in the walled gardens struck at midnight when the New York Times stopped charging for access to TimesSelect, its subscription-only site component.
For two years, online access to many columnists and to the newspaper’s archives was only available on a subscription basis. Not only will readers enjoy access to the entire site, The Times will also make its archives from 1987 to the present available without charge, as well as those from 1851 to 1922, which are in the public domain. However, it will still charge for some material from the period 1923 to 1986.
So why now?
Even though The Times was meeting expectations, with over 227,000 paying subscribers and about US$ 10 million a year in revenue, its subscription niche couldn't quite compete with traffic coming by way of Yahoo and Google.
The Times saw "these indirect readers, unable to get access to articles behind the pay wall and less likely to pay subscription fees than the more loyal direct users" as opportunities for more page views and increased advertising revenue.
As the prospect of ad revenue trumps subscriber revenue, and as more readers (and columnists) demand access to all the news that's fit to print, more online newspapers are going to follow suit. The Times in particular has been leading the charge in innovation among web publishers, by seeking other avenues of revenue beyond advertising.
Less restrictions and more access to online content will lead to more comments generated and a more exclusive and diverse dialogue among readers within the site and beyond--on blogs and other non-traditional media. The trend will ultimately lead more users back to The Times and other outlets -- such as the Wall Street Journal -- who follow its lead.