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Britain's Times, Sunday Times to charge for online content

world Updated: Mar 26, 2010 16:04 IST

The Times and The Sunday Times will become the first British newspapers to charge readers to access the titles online from June, Rupert Murdoch's News International announced on Friday.

Customers will have to pay one pound (1.10 euro, $1.50) for one day's access and two pounds for a week's subscription, in a move that will be closely watched in a newspaper industry suffering steadily dropping sales.

Both Times titles will launch new websites in early May, replacing the existing combined site, Times Online.

The two new sites will be available for a free trial period to registered customers. Access to the digital services will be included in the seven-day subscriptions of print customers of the two newspapers.

News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks said: "At a defining moment for journalism, this is a crucial step towards making the business of news an economically exciting proposition.

"We are proud of our journalism and unashamed to say that we believe it has value. This is just the start. The Times and The Sunday Times are the first of our four titles in the UK to move to this new approach."

News International, a division of Murdoch's News Corporation, also owns The Sun tabloid and Sunday tabloid News of the World.

The Financial Times makes readers pay for some 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.

The Times and Sunday Times will be the first British titles to erect a paywall for all online content.

With newspaper sales in decline and advertising increasingly moving online, owners have been searching for a business model that will make profits from their websites.

Murdoch announced in August last year that he intended to start charging for online content from all his newspapers but said he recognised the need to make their online content distinct from other publishers.

But with so much news content available for free on the Internet, the move is fraught with risk.

News International has criticised the BBC -- which is funded by a compulsory public licence fee -- for the size and power of its news website, arguing that it has an unfair advantage over newspapers.

Murdoch's son James, the News Corporation chief executive who oversees News International, last year blasted the BBC for its aspirations, saying the size and scope of its activities was "chilling."

The announcement of the move comes the day after Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev bought Britain's struggling Independent and Independent on Sunday newspapers for a token one pound.

Lebedev, a former KGB agent who took control of another British title, the Evening Standard, last year, told AFP Thursday: "The printed media is not dead and will not die."