The free ride's over (again) at the New York Times website. As expected, the Gray Lady's going to start making bitches pay for her services on the side of the information superhighway. Today the Times announced the details on its upcoming website pay wall; starting in 2011, visitors to will get a certain number of articles free every month, then they'll be required to pay a flat fee for unlimited access. (Subscribers to the newspaper’s print edition will receive full access to the site.) According to this article on the Times website (copied and pasted below for you to read for free), the whole fate of the paper is riding on this one:

"This announcement allows us to begin the thought process that’s going to answer so many of the questions that we all care about," Arthur Sulzberger Jr., the company chairman and publisher of the newspaper, said in an interview. "We can’t get this halfway right or three-quarters of the way right. We have to get this really, really right... This is a bet, to a certain degree, on where we think the Web is going...This is not going to be something that is going to change the financial dynamics overnight."

How much the Times will charge and how many visits will start the meter running are still TBD. According to the Times, most readers who come to the website are "incidental visitors," arriving through links from other sites. But a small percentage of committed readers "account for the bulk of the site visits and page view," and the Times wants make them pay without driving them away to blogs that parasitically aggregate the Times and other media outlets for free. Of course, where the Times sees a desperately-needed revenue stream, other online publishers, like bloodthirsty pirates spotting a foundering Spanish galleon, see opportunity.