The New York Times is the most recent publisher to give up offering free online content with the company’s announcement that it will revert to charging people to access its content in January 2011.  Rumor has it that you’ll still be able to access a certain number of articles per month for free, but once you go over that number, the fees will start (read more from eMarketer).

In a world where the social Web has nearly made traditional news media obsolete, it makes you wonder if The New York Times is taking a giant step backwards that will backfire or if they’ll be able to muddle through.  Well, The New York Times is a big player in the news industry, so it’s probably safe to say that they’ll survive.  The more interesting part of the story is the opportunity this decision opens for competitors to The New York Times.

However, the question isn’t whether or not online content should be available for free or for a fee.  The truth of the matter today is that with the speed of communication provided by the tools of the social Web such as blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and so on, news has become ubiquitous.  Breaking news turns into old news instantaneously.  People aren’t waiting to learn about current events from the daily newspaper.  They’re logging into Twitter and checking their favorite blogs.

The world has changed.  Will paid online content survive?  That’s the biggest question of all.

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