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Difficult decisions ahead for the world's print media

Some people enjoy the morning ritual of reading the newspaper over breakfast. Some like holding a newspaper in their hands; some even profess a love for the crisp smell of newsprint. Many others, however, have no such sentimental attachments to the physical form of a newspaper and instead, read an online version.

For the past decade or so, newspapers around the world have felt the sting as readers abandon print subscriptions in favor of the online experience. Newspapers around the globe have been put between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they cannot afford not to have an online edition, as they would see their influence diminished. On the other hand, many newspapers literally cannot afford to give away free content; especially as print subscribers decline to renew with the papers.

From major international newspapers to local dailies, papers across the world are struggling with the twin blows of lower print subscriptions and an exodus of advertisers who prefer to put their money into the drastically cheaper medium of the Internet. Editors, writers, reporters, editorialists, staff, photographers and others in the industry have to be paid of course, and dwindling revenue gives newspaper owners few options but to cut back to a bare-bones staff. Many smaller newspapers around the world can no longer afford to retain many investigative journalists or reporters that can be dispatched to do interviews or write firsthand accounts of local events.

But, the entire industry could be on the verge of change. Next Monday, March 28th, American and international visitors to The New York Times website will discover that the free ride is over. The Times, one of America's most venerable news organizations with a website that attracts 30 million monthly visitors, has announced plans to begin charging for online subscriptions. The basic price has been set at US$15 for four weeks (around NT$445 NT). There are several pay plans for reading the Times on a tablet or smart phone with the most expensive plan, which grants access from all kinds of devices, costing US$35 (NT$1035). Online readers without a subscription will be allowed to view 20 free stories a month and print subscribers get free access to all online content.

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