The Times Goes Paid.

Everyone knew it was coming: the New York Times is going to start charging customers to read online content.

Starting in early 2011, visitors will get a certain number of articles free every month before being asked to pay a flat fee for unlimited access. Subscribers to the newspaper’s print edition will receive full access to the site.

First, I think this is a smart way to handle the subscription model.  It ensures that people can still link to Times articles without the fear that everybody will get stuck on the wrong side of the pay wall.  And if the Times can hit that number right, and set the cut-off such that it forces only truly regular readers to pay, it just might work.

Beyond that, this is probably a good move for the Times and a bad move for the newspaper world in the long-term.  I like the New York Times.  Their reporting is excellent.  They have correspondents all over the world and run stories on subjects other newspapers don’t.  Their opinion writers are (for the most part) reasonably intelligent.  I understand the Times is having financial trouble, and as a regular consumer of their product, I would absolutely pay for content.

However: what I would not pay for is the New York Times and the Washington Post.  Or, the NYT, the WP, and the Boston Globe.  Nor would I pay for the Cincinnati Enquirer or the New Orleans Times-Picayune, as much as I love how the latter rolls off the tongue.  Why would I?  On national and international issues, their reporting is identical.  The truth is, most news is redundant, and when it comes to larger issues, newspapers can no longer depend on their communities for subscriptions.  They certainly can’t compete with the NYT.

What I think we’ll see, then, is that local papers – even in big cities – will focus more and more on reporting truly local news.  A few large papers – I’d guess the Times, the Washington Post, and theLA Times – will more and more become the go-to sources for nationwide and international news.  This isn’t entirely a bad thing – in many ways, it’s more logical – but it does consolidate a lot of power into a few hands, and that, frankly, makes me nervous.