The new websites of The Times and Sunday Times went live today for a free trial period ahead of the adoption of an all-or-nothing paywall.
The sites will be free to view to those who register for around a month, after which all content except the homepages will go behind a paywall, rendering it invisible to search engines.
This paywall big bang is far more ambitious than existing paywalls at titles such as the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal which allow limited free access and let casual browsers to view articles via search engines like Google.
In another radical departure, the sites will only allow subscribers to comment under their real names. Those wishing to comment anonymously will have to make a case to editorial staff for doing so.
Times editor James Harding said: ‘The biggest news in newspapers is the web, that’s not because it’s going to put us out of business but because it’s going to make us betterâ€¦
‘In 1785 the first edition of The Times was a product of new technology and new technology has given us the opportunity to launch this.”
For the Sunday Times it will be the first time the title has had a standalone website. Around 35 additional staff have been taken on to produce thesundaytimes.co.uk, which is more visual and magazine-like than thetimes.co.uk – that site more closely resembles the print edition.
This week’s launches will mark the first step in News Corporation proprietor Rupert Murdoch’s bid to charge for content across all his newspaper titles. The Sun and News of the World are set to follow later this year.
Press Gazette was last night given a preview of the sites which will cost £1 a day or £2 a week to view.
Both are much cleaner and crisper in design than existing newspaper websites, largely as a result of the fact that they are no longer designed with search engine optimisation in mind.
Both sites make extensive use of video, photo galleries and interactive infographics. New features on the Sunday Times website include an interactive calendar in the Culture section which includes the ability to make bookings, buy films, books and albums and set Sky Plus boxes to record TV programmes at the touch of a button.
Contrary to speculation, the sites will have to stand or fall on their own content and will not be bundled with access to other News Corp media properties.
In a briefing to bloggers at News International last night, executives emphasised that The Times and Sunday Times will retain separate editorial teams and separate editorial identities online and in print. All the other quality UK national newspapers have largely merged their Sunday and daily newspaper editorial teams.
Times assistant editor Tom Whitwell said of the development of the new look Times website: “There’s been an incredible renaissance in web development and innovation in journalism. There’s an almost infinite number of ideas out there. We thought we don’t necessarily want to do all those things at once. We don’t want to be a news aggregator, we don’t want to become a social networkâ€¦
‘What The Times does is journalism and we tried to create a platform for doing that.”
He emphasised that the various landing pages do not seek to show the reader too many stories at once, but instead offer a selection picked by the editors.
Among the bloggers who also attended last night’s briefing there was a degree of scepticism about the policy of making individual stories effectively invisible to Google and other search engines.
But Times executive editor Daniel Finkeltsein said: ‘If there was an easy way of Prit-sticking our content on the front of each Google search we would do that but there isn’t.”
The existing Times Online content will however remain free to view online for the next few months at least.