Rupert Murdoch's Times and The Sunday Times on Friday announced an end to free access to their online editions. Readers will have to pay £1 for a day's access and £2 for a week's subscription.

Rupert Murdoch's Times and The Sunday Times on Friday became the first British newspapers to announce an end to free access to their online editions opening a new front for the increasingly fierce battle for readership amid declining newspaper circulations and shrinking advertising revenues.

In another sign of the dire economic state of British newspapers, the loss-making Independent and its sister paper Independent on Sunday were bought by Russian businessman Alexander Lebedev for a nominal price of £1. Last year, he bought a majority stake in the Evening Standard saving it from certain closure.

Owners of The Times newspapers announced that from June free access to their redesigned websites would be restricted to only those who already have a seven-day subscription to their print editions. Others will have to pay £1 for a day's access and £2 for a week's subscription.

The two newspapers, which now share a common website, will launch separate online editions in May.

Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of News International which owns the two newspapers, called it a “defining moment for journalism'' and a “crucial step towards making the business of news an economically exciting proposition''.

She said the company's two other titles, The Sun and The News of the World, also planned to end free access to their websites.

James Harding, Editor of The Times, said its new website would have “all the values of the printed paper and all the versatility of digital media''.

His counterpart on The Sunday Times John Witherow, sounded equally ecstatic describing its planned new website as a “hugely significant moment for the paper''.

Meanwhile, the Independent News and Media, owners of the Independent titles, said Mr Lebedev had a made a “commitment'' to invest in the newspapers and retain their independence. Mr. Lebedev is the fourth owner of the Independent group launched 25 years ago as a non-partisan progressive voice in British media.

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