Master archivist Rick Prelinger sez, "As has been rumored, the NY Times will shortly stop charging for its "Times Select" columns, which had been locked behind a pay firewall.
"But the Times has also upheld the principle of public access to the public domain, and is opening its archives from 1851-1922, all of which are in the public domain. Archives 1987-present, though copyrighted, will also be freely accessible.
"This is a surprising and welcome development, and it's smart -- there's nothing like free content to draw eyeballs by the millions.
"Take the time to look at a late 19th-early 20th century issue of the paper -- every day is filled with dozens of little stories, each a potential plot for a movie, novel, or game."
What changed, The Times said, was that many more readers started coming to the site from search engines and links on other sites instead of coming directly to NYTimes.com. These indirect readers, unable to get access to articles behind the pay wall and less likely to pay subscription fees than the more loyal direct users, were seen as opportunities for more page views and increased advertising revenue.
"What wasn't anticipated was the explosion in how much of our traffic would be generated by Google, by Yahoo and some others," Ms. Schiller said.
The Times's site has about 13 million unique visitors each month, according to Nielsen/NetRatings, far more than any other newspaper site. Ms. Schiller would not say how much increased Web traffic the paper expects by eliminating the charges, or how much additional ad revenue the move was expected to generate.