The New York Times edges closer to charging for online content

The New York Times is weeks away from putting up a paywall, according to one report.

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The New York Times will begin charging readers for access to NYTimes.com in coming weeks, New York magazine reports this morning, citing anonymous sources at the Times. Gabriel Sherman, the author of the New York piece, which was published on the popular New York blog Daily Intel, points out the move could be timed to sync with the release of the Apple Tablet.

A Times spokesperson declined to comment on the New York report. "We'll announce a decision when we believe that we have crafted the best possible business approach," Diane McNulty told CNET. "No details till then." Still, speculation about the role of the Tablet in the Times' multimedia strategy roiled the Web this morning, as bloggers tripped over themselves to gather the latest news on the Apple Tablet.

Last Oct., the blogosphere was enveloped by a similar frenzy after an apparent slip-up from Times executive editor Bill Keller, who mentioned an Apple "slate" in a discussion with editorial staff. (The Times speech was broadcast by the Nieman Journalism Lab.) Officially, the Times had no comment. But many analysts assumed that the Times and Apple had already formed some sort of partnership.

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As Sherman notes, the Times essentially has three options when it came to a pay system:

One option was a more traditional pay wall along the lines of The Wall Street Journal, in which some parts of the site are free and some subscription-only. For example, editors and business-side executives discussed a premium version of Andrew Ross Sorkin's DealBook section. Another option was the metered system. The third choice, an NPR-style membership model, was abandoned last fall, two sources explained. The thinking was that it would be too expensive and cumbersome to maintain because subscribers would have to receive privileges (think WNYC tote bags and travel mugs, access to Times events and seminars).

According to Sherman, Times execs have settled on the meter, which will allow readers to view a certain amount of stories for free. Once the reader has reached his or her "limit" – let's say 10 or 12 stories – the reader will be prompted to sign into the site as a paid user. (The Financial Times uses a similar system.)

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