Has the Times Paywall Worked?

An update on my previous blog post about whether you’d want to pay Newscorp for news..    Maybe it’s because I’m essentially a news junkie that I said I would happily pay,  but now we have some hard data about how many heads are actually being banged against the Times Paywall.

Times Newspapers released stats saying that 105,000 customers paid to visit the Times and Sunday Times websites since the Paywall went up while another 100,000 have  taken out a subscription to read the papers online as well as in print.  So does that add up success?

205,000 isn’t a bad “circulation” figure for a quality broadsheet – The Independent gets very excited about achieving those levels!  If nothing else, this must be an encouraging start for Newscorp.  It is after all the first time in newspaper history that any publication has persuaded anyone to pay for a format other than print. The real test of course is the bottom line and whether the Paywall will deliver more revenue than when content was freely available online.  That 105,000 figure doesn’t just include those who have paid directly.  It also includes those who have paid for the more expensive iPad app or via Amazon's Kindle, but Newscorp haven’t revealed the split.

It’s not certain therefore just how "sticky" these paying customers are and whether or not they renew their subscriptions or if they are “one time hits”.  Around half of the customers are paying monthly (£8 for the website or £10 for the iPad app) and the rest are paying £1 for a day's access.   On top of that there will still be some advertising revenue to be factored in too.   Estimates suggest all that amounts to around £7 million in revenue post-Paywall.

It’s reckoned that the size of the Times online audience before the Paywall was more than 20 million a month. Nielsen (which uses a panel to measure web audiences much as it does for TV viewing figures)   reckons the true figure in the UK was 3.1 million. Using that lower figure suggests that the Times has suffered a drop in its online audience of more than 90%.  However the same Nielsen study also implied that those who remained were more valuable to advertisers.  These people are reading more of the paper and tend to be much better heeled financially than the plebs who used to skip through the free site.

The upshot of all this appears to be that, so far at least,  Times Newspapers is nowhere near generating the same revenues from its Paywall than when its website was free. That's not to say the initiative has failed. It’s shown that there is indeed an audience (albeit a small one) out there willing to pay for digital content.  Other newspapers may also seek to imitate the Times by adding tablet PCs as a paid platform.

However, one unforeseen consequence in all this may be the attitude of the content originators – the Times journalists themselves.  There’s a feeling that The Paywall has cut journalists and authors off from the online conversation.   I wonder how many fine Times reporters and columnists are secretly fuming about the fact that their rivals seem to be basking in all the online buzz around their stories whilst Times journalists are hidden away behind the Paywall?

So the consumers may not be that upset about the Paywall experiment, but  I suspect some of the producers may still be a little uneasy....