The Times of London set up a paywall on July 2 and has lost 66%, 84%, 90% or 93% of its online traffic as a result, according to the rival Guardian. The Guardian apparently can’t figure out which figure to believe, so it lays them all out in a tedious and self-indulgent exercise that is probably of interest only to management at the Guardian.
“New paywall costs the Times 66% of its internet readership” says the July 18 headline, which then helpfully points out in the subhead that that means that 33% of the audience is still there. Two days later, though, the very same Guardian trumpets, “Times loses almost 90% of online readership,” a decline it characterizes as “massive.” We marvel at what a difference two days can make.
The Guardian then presents a convoluted analysis of comparative data that suggests that the Times’ website traffic has fallen anywhere from 84% or 93% since it began charging £2 a week for online access. The paper also presents various scenarios for calculating the Times’ share of overall traffic to UK newspaper sites and debates what the impact on the paper’s bottom line will be.
The nut graph, however, makes it clear that this is a non-story: “The figures are…unlikely to surprise some executives at the Times: the Sunday Times‘s editor, John Witherow, predicted in May that ‘perhaps more than 90%’ of pre-registration readers were likely to be lost once the registration-only service was implemented.”
So what is the story here? The Times got exactly what it was expecting. Its financial people have presumably run the numbers and decided that they’re ready to take the traffic hit. In fact, the Guardian even quotes Rupert Murdoch saying that paywalls could generate “significant revenues” for his newspapers.
Let’s give the Times credit for setting up a real paywall. Even Google can’t penetrate this sucker. Clicking through to any section or story from the home page is pointless without a credit card in hand. Murdoch is putting his money where his mouth is. He has pledged to take all his newspapers to a paid-access model, and the Times’ experiment is bold, regardless of the outcome. Unlike subscribers to the Wall Street Journal or the Financial Times, the readers of the London Times have no compelling financial interest in the content. In the crowded UK news market, they also have plenty of alternatives from which to choose. If the Times can make its paywall work, it will give a lift to the rest of this beleaguered industry. Although probably not to the Guardian.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 21st, 2010 at 5:04 am and is filed under BusinessModel, Murdoch, Newspapers, Paywalls. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.