Roundup of commentary on Times paywall

The Times paywall has been the subject of plenty of speculation and comment. I won’t weigh in on what, how, why and how well they’re doing but here’s a roundup of some of the commentary I’ve read recently:

The Guardian said the Times website had lost almost 90% of its readers since the paywall kicked in.

They referred to figures cited by Dan Sabbagh at BeehiveCity:

Number of people registering for The Times and Sunday Times websites during the free trial period: 150,000

++ Update 19/07 noon:  I’m now hearing from official sources that this number is in fact somewhat higher. But I’m hearing no challege to the more important numbers below ++

Number of people actually agreeing to pay money: 15,000

Number of people paying for The Times’s separate iPad application: 12,500

He goes on to put the new, paying, online customers into some context by comparing them with the number of lost print subscribers in the past year and comes up with this doom-laden sentence:

…it means that the 27,500 new digital subscribers are equivalent to 10,576 new print readers. Now compare that to the annual sales decline of 45,778…

The FT said the Times had lost two-thirds of its readers since the paywall was enforced and added:

The strategy is based on the theory that a mixture of subscription revenues and targeted, high-yielding advertisements can offset the lost value of advertising to tens of millions of low-commitment browsers. Charging for online content is unusual in the generalist news space, but specialist publications such as the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times have paywalls. One media buyer said The Times had doubled its online advertising rates since the paywall went up, as News International seeks to demonstrate the value to advertisers of fewer but higher-quality readers.

The FT quoted figures from Experian Hitwise collated by research director Robin Goad:

The most significant fall in visits was in the weeks just before the paywall went up, when visitors were asked to register before viewing Times articles. Traffic fell 58 per cent in the five weeks between May 22 and June 26, with The Times’ share of UK news and media web traffic falling from 4.37 per cent to 1.83 per cent.

In the week after charging began on July 2, the rate of decline moderated, although World Cup news might have boosted web visits. Between July 3 and July 10, visits fell to 33 per cent of The Times’ pre-registration level, or 1.43 per cent of the market.

Goad, who published some initial stats a month ago, posted updated figures on his Hitwise blog this week:

The latest data for the week ending 17 July 2010 shows that The Times‘ market share has dropped off further still to 1.37% of the News and Media – Print category. The rate of decline is slowing however and the data suggests visits to The Times’ website are stabilising.

Experts and commentators may crow that this is exactly what they said would happen when Rupert Murdoch first took the decision to put The Times behind a paywall. Just take a moment though to see what the site has achieved.

The Times has retained a third of their online visits, and visitors are still spending an average of around three minutes per visit on the website, indicating that they are happy to pay for the content and not disappearing to alternative sites for news.

Time will tell if The Times loses further market share and when the introductory offer of “£1 for the first 30 days” expires perhaps consumers will search for their news content from other providers. So far though, The Times seems to be doing just fine. For now Mr Murdoch’s gamble has paid off.

Mathew Ingram suggests the object of the paywall is not so much to keep people out as to keep people in:

For many newspapers, the main driving force for instituting a paywall is to keep print readers from migrating away from buying the physical product (which still generates the majority of advertising revenue at most newspapers) to reading for free online, where their eyeballs are worth less than they would be in print. Think of it as eyeball arbitrage.

And Michael Wolff said there’s an ‘empty world’ behind the paywall and it’s all designed to slash costs:

Beyond the fact that we journalists, behind a paywall, will have fewer readers (our real currency), Murdoch, I rush to remind, has always run a ruthless newsroom, in which nobody comes out ahead but Rupert. In that light, it may be better to see the paywall as not about making more but about costing less. The paywall, and the integration of the Times and the Sunday Times behind it, becomes the deus ex machina by which (and this has long been a Murdoch dream) Murdoch and his son, James, the paper’s boss (with his eager corporate lieutenants, Rebekah Wade Brooks and Will Lewis), happily tear up several centuries of history and join the Times and the Sunday Times—and save a fortune.

Organ Grinder chimes in with a post about the Daily Mail doing perfectly well without a paywall:

Take the Mail in print. Around 1.9 million punters buying a copy every day, which means 4,881,000 readers scanning their favourite sheet each morning. And online, the growth from nothing much four years ago to 40,500,000 unique browsers a month is verging on the phenomenal: up 72% year on year. Through 2009, the Telegraph and the Guardian were two close competitors – sometimes ahead, often very near to, the Mail. Not now. Both still have good growth of their own, but Associated’s electronic baby – 16 million unique browsers in the UK, 26.3 million in the rest of the world – begins to hint at a different league.

Ah! Perhaps that’s because it is in a different league, say the snipers. Look at those yards of celebrity gossip and pictures on the site; this isn’t the Mail we know (and don’t much love). This is a different beast that somehow doesn’t count because it fights unfair.

Park that charge for a moment, however, and ask why the Mail’s online chief, Martin Clarke, is clearly (though pragmatically) opposed to paywalls. Because he doesn’t need them. Because the surge of traffic is bringing in advertising fast. Because he can see a moment, very soon, when his digital daily will make real profits of its own.

Oh, and Journalism Online, which aims to help newspapers charge for content, has got its first user up and running with its Press+ app:

Pennsylvania’s LancasterOnline went live this morning with the first newspaper use of Journalism Online’s Press+—metered out-of-town access to obits. The meter kicks in after an out-of-market user reads seven obits in one month; viewing more will cost $1.99 a month or $19.99 a year. [Slideshow.] The plans were outlined earlier this year with hopes for a spring launch but “it took a little longer to test and be satisfied with it than we thought,” Ernie Schreiber, the site’s editor of content development, told paidContent.

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