The Wall Street Journal Online reports and BusinessWeek blogs that the New York Times is surveying its readers on two subscription plans that would move them away from their current $2.95/article pricing structure. One plan would offer unlimited access to the past year’s articles for $49.99 and the second would limit access to 100 articles/month but from their complete archive back to 1851.

Access to articles less than a week old will continue to be available at no charge.

In the article, Robert Niles, editor of the Online Journalism Review is quoted:

a move by the Times to offer annual subscriptions to its online archives would “radically” change the pricing structure for newspaper archives on the Web. “They may be hoping that they’ll be getting a much larger market for this lower-priced, all-you-can-eat archival content,” Mr. Niles said. Such a strategy also could help the Times build its brand online. “You want to be the newspaper of record for the United States, and by aggressively pricing your archives … that can help you do that,”

I always wondered where the $2.95/article benchmark used throughout the online media industry came from. It seemed so arbitrary and is now almost ten years old.