It’s hard to tell whether News Corp.’s Tuesday statement that its pay-walled news sites, The Times and The Sunday Times of London, have attracted 105,000 paying customers is a victory or a defeat, considering the media giant used to draw over three million unique monthlies before it put up the pay wall.
“We are very pleased by the response…These figures very clearly show that large numbers of people are willing to pay for quality journalism in digital formats,” said Rebekah Brooks, CEO of News International, to reporters.
Let’s do the math: the pay wall was erected in July, which means that those 105,000 paying customers (about half of which are monthly subscribers; the other half pay for access by the day) are distributed throughout four months. So News Corp. went from three million readers a month to just over 26,000 a month...and is pleased with the response. Setting the bar a little low, aren’t we?
A number of observers predicted doom for the papers when News Corp. announced that it would be charging readers to access any of its content, an extreme breakaway from the advertising-based model that most news organizations have been using for their online news sites for the last several years. But most organizations charge for some content while making other areas of their sites accessible. The Times and Sunday Times, by contrast, do not allow access to any of their content beyond the front page.
Interestingly, traffic to the site has not fallen as much as previously anticipated. When News Corp. erected the pay wall, it estimated that traffic would fall 90%, but last week, Nielsen released findings that show that unique monthly visitors to The Times has only fallen by 42% to 1.78 million.
Of course, because of the pay wall, the vast majority of these visitors do not go beyond the front page. They come to the site, browse the headlines, and then mosey on down to something else. If they do try to access an article, they will receive a banner asking them to pay the £1 daily fee, or the £9.99 monthly subscription.
To be fair, it could still be too early to tell for sure whether the pay wall will be a success or a predictable failure. Many naysayers don’t believe that anyone would be willing to pay a fee to access general news. Specialty publications have an easier time drawing in paid readers. The Financial Times, which has 189,000 paid readers, uses a metered model whereby readers can access a limited number of articles for free each month before they’re billed. The New York Times has also announced plans to adopt a similar model next year.
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