Starting in April non-subscribers will only be able to see 10 articles, slide shows or videos a month for free, down from 20, the paper says this morning. If you want more, then you’ll have to buy one of The Times’ digital subscriptions. Now brace yourself for the caveats: Even if you’re past the limit, you can still see an article for free if you reach it via a search engine, or an email or blog link — but you can only see five a day from some unnamed search engines. The NYTimes.com home page and section fronts also will be free to browse. Smartphone and tablet users will be able to see top news stories for free — but will have to subscribe to see anything else.
The Times tried to spin the news as sign of how well it’s doing in the digital world. One year after it erected its pay wall, the paper has 454,000 paid digital subscribers. “We knew that readers placed a high value on our journalism, and we anticipated they would respond positively to our digital subscription packages,” Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr says. Still, he has a lot riding on his ability to nudge online readers to pay — without giving print customers an incentive to switch to a lower-priced digital-only subscription. Barclays Capital analyst Kannan Venkateshwar estimated this month, before the latest announcement, that The Times might generate about $100M a year in revenues from digital subscriptions. Although that “is not high on an absolute basis,” it’s needed to offset the more than $50M a year loss in print ads, he says. But the digital sales effort needs a lot of attention and tweaking. And Venkateshwar notes that “the company’s efforts historically on the digital side have been sporadic and the company is still to appoint a CEO” to replace Janet Robinson who left with a sweet exit package at the end of 2011.