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New York Times Reveals 20-Article Limit as Online Pay Meter Arrives

Also Says It's Joining Apple's New Subscription Service Plan; iPad Access to Cost More Than Smartphone

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The New York Times today finally described the details of its plans to charge heavy users of its digital platforms, a bid to collect more revenue from readers and depend less on the vicissitudes of advertisers.

Under the plan, visitors to The New York Times Online will have access to 20 free articles a month. After that the Times will offer them a choice, the cheapest of which is $15 for four weeks of access to the site and a smartphone app. After that readers could pay $20 per for unfettered online access and its iPad app or $35 to cover all of the above.

Home-delivery subscribers will get all access at no extra charge, not including the Times on the Kindle and Nook.

The home page at NYTimes.com and section fronts will remain free to browse. The Top News section of the Times' smartphone and tablet apps will also remain free, but checking out other sections will trigger requests for users to become digital subscribers.

The plan goes into effect today in Canada and on March 28 in the U.S. and elsewhere, according to a Times letter to readers.

A 20-article limit may strike some people as low; this reporter is way over that limit, with 72 articles read in the past month, according to the new feature that shows readers a count of their stories. The meter had been described as an effort to charge only the heaviest readers.

But readers who come to Times articles through links from search, blogs and social media will be able to read that content even if they've hit their max. There will be limits on reading Times content that way, however; a Times article on the change said visitors from Google will get hit a five-article daily limit.

The Times also said it is joining Apple's new subscription system for iTunes, which typically gives a Apple a 30% cut and keeps subscriber info away from the publishers unless subscribers specifically authorize Apple to share their data.

The New York Times's average paid weekday circulation declined 5.5% in the latest reporting period to 876,638. The Wall Street Journal, by comparison, posted a 1.8% gain in paying readers to 2.06 million, while USA Today reported a 3.7% decline to 1.83 million, according to their filings to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

New York Times brand sites attracted 31.43 million unique visitors in February and 683 million page views, according to ComScore. The free USA Today sites got just more than 18 million uniques and 191 million page views. The Journal Online, which has a stricter pay wall in place than The Times is introducing, attracted 13.82 million uniques and 128 million page views.

More details on the new plan are available here.

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