Here Comes "Times Reader"

The years of discussion about the viability of a pay model for its online newspaper are over, and the new product is about to be launched. Earlier this week, Motley Fool Income Investor pick New York Times (NYSE: NYT  ) indicated that it is about to roll out Times Reader, an online version of its flagship and namesake newspaper.

According to a note to those who have participated in the six months of testing of the online publication, the beta period will end in two weeks, and on March 27, Times will launch the online version of its New York Times for $14.95 a month, or $165 annually. The launch and its price determination follow years of discussion -- and apparent disagreement -- among Times executives about whether the online product should be distributed free or should be subject to a charge. Obviously, those in the latter camp have emerged victorious.

In a note to Times Reader beta testers, Rob Larson, the vice president of product management and development at NYTimes.com, noted that Times Reader subscriptions will include access to the paper's premium crossword puzzles and its TimesSelect, an online service that provides access to Times columnists, along with seven-day access to the paper's archives. The new product will be viewable on a host of mobile devices.

Times Reader will be provided free to New York Times home delivery subscribers, including those whose deliveries are limited to weekends, Sundays, or weekdays. It also will be available without charge to those who subscribe only to the paper's book review and to those who receive a special education rate. It's not clear whether it will make use of the NewsStand suite of publishing software that was developed by an Austin, Texas, company of the same name. That software permits an online newspaper to achieve a look that is almost identical to its print version.

Times, like most major publishing companies, including Tribune (NYSE: TRB  ) , Gannett (NYSE: GCI  ) , and Dow Jones (NYSE: DJ  ) , has been striving to expand its online offerings. In a recent media conference sponsored by the Bear Stearns brokerage firm, Times' management noted that the company's digital revenues had grown by about 8% in 2006, to $274 million, and said it expects them to increase by nearly 30% to about $350 million this year. But even the larger figure will only constitute little more than a tenth of Times' total top-line figure.

Times Reader is also its parent company's latest weapon in an arsenal that is increasingly designed to maintain circulation and advertising revenues in an era where both are slipping steadily at most publications. Indeed, on Thursday, the Newspaper Association of America reported that overall print advertising declined 1.7% last year, while its online counterpart expanded by 31.5%.

I personally will be interested in viewing Times' new product on March 27. At the same time, I'll leave ownership of the company's shares to others.

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If you are interested in the other side of the Times story, take a free 30-day trial of the Income Investor newsletter to read up on why it was selected as a pick for the market-beating service.

Fool contributor David Lee Smith does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned. He welcomes your comments or questions. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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