The Baltimore Sun will begin charging frequent users of its website a subscription fee Oct. 10, joining several news organizations that have recently established price tags for online information.
The Sun will allow users 15 free page views a month on baltimoresun.com. But for unlimited access, users will pay either $2.49 a week or $49.99 for six months. Those who already subscribe to The Sun's print edition will receive discounted rates of 75 cents a week or $29.99 a year for unlimited access to the website. The Sun will offer an introductory rate of 99 cents for the first four weeks of online subscriptions.
Tim Ryan, The Sun's publisher, president and chief executive officer, said the news organization is well-positioned to charge for online access because of the growing popularity of its website, which has averaged a 39 percent annual increase in traffic and received a record 52 million page views in August.
"As the numbers clearly show, digital consumers recognize the website's value," Ryan said in a statement. "We are confident they will subscribe to maintain access to all of our unique, in-depth local news and information, and we will continue to innovate in ways that provide those readers with the news they want, the way they want it."
The Sun will join the New York Times, the Boston Globe and the Dallas Morning News among newspapers that recently began charging for web access. Publishers feared making the move for years, worrying that they might drive away readers who were trained to expect online stories for free.
But the tide is shifting rapidly, said Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst for the Poynter Institute, a journalism training center based in St. Petersburg, Fla. Edmonds said the model The Sun will use is especially popular.
"It's very much a hot trend," Edmonds said. "It makes a lot of sense because it addresses what many considered the worst barrier to moving in this direction. It still allows the casual traffic to come through. But for people who have established that they use this as a principal source of information every day, it establishes that they should have to pay."
Media analysts have closely watched The Times, which charges a fee for users who view more than 20 articles a month, as a test case. The results have been better than many expected.
In July, four months after launching its subscription plan, The Times reported 224,000 digital subscribers and another 57,000 who paid to receive the newspaper on electronic reading devices such as the Amazon Kindle. Site visits and page views dropped, but Times executives have said they nonetheless see online subscribers as a promising source of revenue.
"It's always hard to make judgments about a major change after six months, but so far, it's going well," Edmonds said.
Newspapers have used different models in making the leap. The Globe maintained free access for its existing website, Boston.com, but established a for-subscription site, BostonGlobe.com, with more extensive content. The Dallas Morning News charges a subscription fee for access to the vast majority of its staff-produced stories. The Wall Street Journal has long charged for most of its online content.
Unlike The Times, The Sun will count links from social media and other websites as part of a user's monthly allotment of 15 views. Access to the newspaper's home page, front pages of sections such as Sports and Entertainment and classified advertising pages will be unlimited.