The Times they are a-chargin': British paper erects paywall

One of Britain's most famous newspapers, The Times, started charging readers to access its website Friday, the first mainstream non-specialist daily here to do so.

It will now cost one pound pound (1.4 dollars, 1.2 euros) for a daily subscription or two pounds for a weekly one to The Times or sister publication The Sunday Times, owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

With newspaper sales around the world in decline and advertising increasingly moving online, owners have been searching for profitable business models for struggling newspapers, many of which have been forced to close in recent years.

Last August, Murdoch announced plans to charge for all his firm's news websites.

Business paper The Financial Times already makes readers pay for online content, while the Wall Street Journal - also part of Murdoch's media empire - is currently the only major US paper charging readers for full access online.

The New York Times announced in January that it would start charging for online content in early 2011.

Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News Corporation's main British subsidiary News International, hailed the start of the new era.

"The new sites showcase our award-winning journalism in a very visual way, giving readers exclusive content and interactivity so that they can get even more from the news," she said.

"We believe the new sites offer real value and we look forward to continuing to invest and innovate for readers."

Figures from Britain's Audit Bureau of Circulations for May, the last figures available, show the circulation of all British quality daily papers falling year-on-year.

The figure for The Times was 515,379, down nearly 13 percent, while The Sunday Times stood at 1,117,749, down over six percent.

Experts warn that newspapers are taking a gamble by launching paywalls, while predicting that many more will be forced to do so.

"I expect that we will see more paywalls in the future, but many of them will fail to produce desired results," Robert G. Picard, a media economics expert from Sweden's Jonkoping International Business School, told AFP.

"Paywalls will only work if the news and information behind the wall is not available elsewhere for free - such as television, radio, free papers, or the Internet - or if it is of such high quality or adds services not available in print versions."

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