After a year of sometimes fraught debate inside the paper, the choice for some time has been between a Wall Street Journal-type pay wall and the metered system adopted by the Financial Times, in which readers can sample a certain number of free articles before being asked to subscribe. The Times seems to have settled on the metered system.

One personal friend of Sulzberger said a final decision could come within days, and a senior newsroom source agreed, adding that the plan could be announced in a matter of weeks. (Apple’s tablet computer is rumored to launch on January 27, and sources speculate that Sulzberger will strike a content partnership for the new device, which could dovetail with the paid strategy.) It will likely be months before the Times actually begins to charge for content, perhaps sometime this spring…

The argument for remaining free was based on the belief that nytimes.com is growing into an English-language global newspaper of record, with a vast audience — 20 million unique readers — that, Nisenholtz and others believed, would prove lucrative as web advertising matured. (The nytimes.com homepage, for example, has sold out on numerous occasions in the past year.) As other papers failed to survive the massive migration to the web, the Times would be the last man standing and emerge with even more readers. Going paid would capture more circulation revenue, but risk losing significant traffic and with it ad dollars. At an investor conference this fall, Nisenholtz alluded to this tension: “At the end of the day, if we don’t get this right, a lot of money falls out of the system.”