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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Times Online to charge for archive access

It's a question newspaper sites eventually face: do we or don't we charge for access to our archives? Assuming, of course, that they have a searchable archive.

Times Online, the website of the Times newspaper in the UK, launched its archive in June on a free trial basis and has just announced it is putting much of it behind a paywall, according to the Guardian:

An email to users described the first three months of the archive as the "free introductory period" and explained that although featured articles on the archive homepage would remain free, access will be charged at £4.95 for one day, £14.95 for one month and £74.95 for one year.

"On Thursday September 18, the free introductory period will end, so we're writing to let you know how you can continue to enjoy this wonderful resource," Times Online told its readers.

"All the featured content on our archive home page and on Times Online will remain free to view, but if you wish to search the archive there will be a charge to view the results."

Times Online editor-in-chief Anne Spackman said,"The trial allowed us to see what [kind of content] people were coming in for."

The archive attracts around 80,000 unique users each month, she said, with each visitor accessing between seven and eight pages on average.

Spackman said between 3,000 and 5,000 articles would be available for free at any one time, linked from an index page that connects archive stories with current events, such as the Wall Street crash.

"The only people who will be paying are the people pursuing a personal journey," said Spackman, adding that the new rates for the archive would be less than the Guardian with special offers for existing newspaper subscribers.

The 200-year archive includes news stories from 1785 to 1985 including the Battle of Waterloo, the arrival of convicts at Botany Bay and the execution of Marie Antoinette, all in the original page layout.

Times Online, as with other online newspapers, has had to decide whether to monetise its extensive archive by opening pages for free and relying on advertising, or whether to stick to traditional business-to-business revenues from libraries.

Introducing paid access to consumers means sites can preserve their existing contracts with library firms, while keeping the service available to consumers and is likely to be seen as a more stable revenue stream in the current economic climate.

The move follows a major announcement by Google last week, which is working with 100 newspaper partners, mostly in the US, to digitise and index their archives.

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