The New York Times announced plans to instate a pay wall almost a full year before it will go live, and so far it’s been anyone’s guess as to what their new digital business model will look like. But according to comments from Bill Keller this week, it may look like something pretty familliar: The Wall Street Journal.

Speaking at a Foreign Press Association dinner Thursday night, the paper’s executive editor reiterated the fact that The Times will go behind a pay wall in January. But he argued that many readers will never run up against it:

“Those who mainly come to the website via search engines or links from
blogs, and those who only come sporadically — in short, the bulk of
our traffic — may never be asked to pay at all,” Keller told me in an
e-mail today. “People who have print subscriptions will get full
website access without charge. So we do not anticipate a major impact on
overall traffic, which is important to maintain advertising.”

He tells MediaMatters‘ Joe Strupp:

“Under
our metered model, basically people who use Nytimes.com as their
newspaper, who
read a lot and depend on it, will be asked to pay a small subscription
price.”

The Wall Street Journal uses a similar model, asking people that come directly to the site to pay, while letting those that come via search engines access articles for free. 

However, News Corp. owner Rupert Murdoch has repeatedly threatened to close this loophole, and has few kind words for Google. As he said in April:

“We are going to stop people like Google or Microsoft or whoever from
taking stories for nothing … there is a law of copyright and they
recognise it.”

Of course, The Journal gives Google access to its stories, and could just as easily cut them off. But it’s interesting that The Times is considering a similar model. Many readers will quickly learn that they can avoid the pay wall by searching for items.

There’s one major reason The Times could be going this route: traffic. 

Putting the paper behind a pay wall means losing a significant number of readers who will balk at the price — regardless of what it is. But if web surfers can work around the wall and get access to the site, it will help The Times maintain its some of its traffic. Says Keller:

“We assume there will be some
impact on
readership, aka traffic, but not as much as with a conventional pay
model.”

As Keller says, a newspaper like The New York Times needs to bring in revenue if it wants to fund longform, reported journalism. But giving up on page views (and ad revenue) is hard to do. And if the paper wants to maintain anything like the numbers it has for a free site, giving some free access is a smart idea. But we’ll still have to wait until January to see if The Times’ metered model looks like this. As I’ve written before, the paper could lose a lot more than pageviews if it gets its pay model wrong