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Murdoch's Times draws 105,000 to paywall

ABOVE: Times readers can pay £1 a day for a 24 hour pass, which includes the web but not mobile versions of the paper, or £1 a day for 30 days then £2 a week, which covers both web and mobile editions. Rupert Murdoch's NewsCor

NBR staff
Wed, 03 Nov 2010

ABOVE: Times readers can pay £1 a day for a 24 hour pass, which includes the web but not mobile versions of the paper, or £1 a day for 30 days then £2 a week, which covers both web and mobile editions.

Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp got a media thumping last month.

In July, two UK mastheads in the News stable, Times of London and its sister The Times on Sunday, mid-year became among the first mainstream newspapers to have their websites put behind a paywall.

In October, traffic tracker CommScore revealed that during the first month of paid content, Times visitor numbers cratered 27% to 1.59 million (from 2.15 million).

Since then, there’s been a slower, steadier bleed.

During August (the latest month for which CommScore has published figures), The Times lost another 120,000 browsers, or 7.9% of its traffic, receiving 1.46 million unique visitors.

105,000 pay to access Times website
Your correspondent remained dubious that the paid content concept can work outside the world of specialised news.

But I also said, during October, that the jury was still out until it was known how many had taken up the Times' paid content offer.

Today, News has given its first indication, saying in a statement that the Times of London had gained a healthy 105,000 paywall subs (to put that in context, the high-brow daily has around 500,000 print subscribers).

 Of the 105,000, "around half" were active subscribers to the Times via it website, or Kindle or iPad editions. The balance were occasional purchasers (a £1 a day for  24 hour pass is offered).

Print subscribers to the Times are entitled to activate a paid online account at no extra cost. Around 100,000 have taken that option, brining the total paywall audience to about 205,000.

The Financial Times (in Pearson's stable; and another paywall paper - more of which below) had a less charitable take.

An FT article says "the lasting impact of the paywall remains unclear because of a series of 'early adopter' offers."

The Pearson paper also noted that NewsCorp had not revealed renewal rates for The Times' monthly subscription option (although they are called "encouraging").

And the FT helpfully calculates that 35,000 £1-a-day passes over the period equates to just 300 casual paid readers a day.

Still, allowing for the 55,000 active subs, it's a healthy start, and one that can give heart to The New York Times, which is planning its own paid content scheme in the New Year (which will likely involve readers being give a set number of stories free a month, then asked to pay to read more).

(And boy does the NYT need the extra revenue as a 14% interest on a $US250 million loan from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim falls due.)

Extra circ revenue outweighs loss of ad revenue
TechCrunch quotes different online readership figures, but still sees a steep loss in website readers.

However, its sums show The Times coming out ahead.

According to the site's Eric Schonfeld (talking in US dollars):

Those 50,000 monthly subscribers are paying $12.80 a month, or $640,000 a month total. Let’s say the other 55,000 pay-as-you-read crowd is generating another $160,000 a month in subscription revenues (I am being generous here and assuming two days a month per person at $1.60 per day). That comes to $800,000 a month, or $9.6 million a year in online subscription revenues.

What did they give up in online advertising revenues? At 41 million estimated pageviews a month, assuming a $5 CPM (cost-per-thousand-impressions), that was only $200,000 a month in online advertising revenues.

Schonfeld quite lowballs the CPM - but then again there's no escaping that online ad yields are, in general, miserable compared to print - and it's balanced by his optimistic take on the number of remaining free readers.

Financial Times doubles digital subs to 180,000
Pearson's Financial Times was, along with the (now Murdoch-owed) Wall Street Journal), and Fairfax's AFR, a pioneer in paid content.

The FT has played its cards close to its chest.

But now, ferreting by has found that Pearson's annual report, released last week, had threads of digital news throughout - including the juicy morsel that the FT's paid online subscriptions increased more than 50% over the past year to pass the 180,000 mark (in total, the FT has around 500,000 subscribers, similar to The Times in total, but with a very different geographic profile; many of the FT's subscribers are overseas).

Pearson also numbers Penguin among its properties, incidentally. The publisher has a greater and greater emphasis on digital books and apps, the company's annual report records. 

That's good news for NZX-listed Renaissance, which last week announced an iPad deal with Penguin Group USA 

NBR staff
Wed, 03 Nov 2010
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Murdoch's Times draws 105,000 to paywall