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The Seattle Times has officially joined the ranks of newpapers charging for unlimited online access. Visitors to Seattletimes.com are now notified that their access will end after reading an unspecified number of stories over the course of a month. At least one reader (Associated Press reporter Mike Baker) has encountered the paywall.

How much will it cost? Here’s a breakdown from a Seattle Times subscription page:

A “print+digital” package that includes Sunday home delivery, unlimited access to seattletimes.com, a digital replica of the Seattle Times print edition, and phone/tablet apps will go for $3.99/week after a five-week introductory price of 99 cents/week.

A “full digital access” package, including all of the above except the Sunday paper, will go for the same weekly rate, $3.99/week, after a four-week introductory price of 99 cents/week.

timesA la carte digital access will go for $3.49/week, offering access to any one of the paper’s digital products — seattletimes.com, the print replica or the smartphone/tablet apps.

The newspaper will also include full digital access with print subscriptions. For purposes of comparison, the paper’s current offer for my area of the city is $6.40/week for seven-day delivery after a five-week introductory price of $2.99/week.

How much content will the paper be giving away for free online? Seattle Times spokeswoman Jill Mackie told us previously that it depends, in part, on what people read.

She explained at the time, “The Seattletimes.com home page, comics, index pages, photo galleries, video content, entertainment listings, paid listings and the classified sights will be unmetered. Metered content includes news and opinion content, blogs and live chats. The mix of metered and unmetered content the individual uses will determine how much content they will see before encountering the paywall. Infrequent users or users of unmetered content will likely not be impacted by this change.”

One of our former colleages from the Seattle P-I newspaper, Candace Heckman Barron, wrote an op-ed in the Seattle Times this weekend in support of the paywall plan.

“Sure, I can get a lot of free coverage from television and neighborhood blogs, but none of that has ever been as reliable as a professional newspaper report prepared by experienced journalists,” she wrote.

I have a somewhat different perspective, as I mentioned when asked about this topic during a recent segment on KUOW radio. Simply charging for something that was previously free isn’t exactly an exercise in entrepreneurial creativity. What additional value will Seattle Times digital subscribers be getting for their money? Upgraded apps? More reporters?

How about a tote bag, at least?

But ultimately what matters is the reaction of Seattle Times readers. Seattle Times spokeswoman Mackie said in a recent email, “Generally speaking, we are confident in our digital subscription strategy and anticipate it will meet or surpass our expectations.”

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