Readers will have to pay to access the websites of The Times and The Sunday Times newspapers from June, parent company News International has announced.
The papers will become the first UK national titles to charge for access to their whole sites. The papers will launch new, separate websites in May and will be available for free until June, when a paywall will be erected.
Access will cost £1 per day or £2 per week, the company said. The move has been long-trailed and will be closely watched by other print publishers to see if they can make back losses from sliding print sales with online charges.
“At a defining moment for journalism, this is a crucial step towards making the business of news an economically exciting proposition," said Rebekah Brooks, the former Sun and News Of The World editor who is now the chief executive of News International. "We are proud of our journalism and unashamed to say that we believe it has value.”
Newspapers have suffered in the past ten years from falling print sales as round-the-clock broadcast news, free commuter papers in cities and online news have reduced people's reliance on printed news.
They have also suffered falling advertising income as previously highly-profitable classified adverts and display advertising have migrated to online advertising platforms that many advertisers see as cheaper and as offering more trackable results than print ads.
Other papers have attempted to charge users directly, though. The New York Times operated a subscription service for features and opinion content but dropped that practice when few readers took up the option of paying and the content was far less widely read than the paper's free material.
The Financial Times publishes many current news stories free but has long operated a charge for some content and some site functions such as detailed archive searches. Industry observers have tended to see the success of the FT's paywall as an exception rather than a rule because, as a finance paper, the subscriptions are mostly paid by corporations rather than individuals.
Newspapers in the UK have steadily reduced staff and costs in line with falling revenues, and News International's attempt to make consumers pay will be monitored as a potential financial lifeline for papers.
News International owner Rupert Murdoch said last summer that he would move all his newspapers behind paywalls and would invest in the services to differentiate them from existing, free news sites.
The Times and Sunday Times sites will be redesigned and re-launched with additional applications and audio-visual services.
“Thetimes.co.uk will make the most of moving images, dynamic infographics, interactive comment and personalised news feeds," said James Harding, editor of The Times. "The coming editions of The Times on phones, e-readers, tablets and mobile devices will tell the most important and interesting stories in the newest ways.”
Brooks said that the company's tabloid papers, The Sun and the News Of The World would also be put behind paywalls at a later date.