The move to a paywall future will likely give newspapers struggling for survival around the world pause for thought, particularly in the UK. In November, the Telegraph introduced a metered paywall strategy for overseas users.
The latest move makes The Washington Post one of the last big American newspapers to erect a paywall.
The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times already have paywalls.
The Washington Post said in a statement that like the WSJ and The New York Times, it would launch a “metered digital subscription model”. Initially, this will allow readers access to up to 20 free articles on the site each month.
A similar path was trodden by the New York Times, which then dialled back free access to 10 articles a month. The newspaper has made what is widely seen as a successful transition to a paid model and has around 600,000 digital subscribers.
Last year The Washington Post Company’s operating losses for its newspaper business jumped to $53.7m (£35.4m) from $21.2m (£14m) in 2011.
Like others, The Washington Post still allows those discovering story links through social media to freely access content.
The Post has yet to reveal how much a digital subscription to the paper will cost.
Katharine Weymouth, publisher of the Post, said: “News consumers are savvy; they understand the high cost of a top-quality newsgathering operating and the importance of maintaining the kind of in-depth reporting for which the Post is known.”
Weymouth told the FT that the model being adopted most closely resembled the New York Times, the progress of which has been closely watched. She said the Post had wanted to watch and learn before it made the leap.
She said: “We also wanted to grow our audience as large as possible. At this point, the metered system is the way to let you have your cake and eat it too.”
The move by The New York Times to a paywall model has seen many others follow suit.
A new report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism this week said that 450 of the US’s 1,380 daily newspapers have now adopted or are in the process of putting a paywall in place.
However, there are some large US papers that have not made the leap, including the Seattle Times and the Tampa Bay Times.