Though it has only been two weeks since the New York Times implemented its much criticized and analyzed paywall, which charges digital subscribers to access news content through NYTimes.com and NYTimes mobile apps, there’s already significant data to report.
Traffic is down across the board.
Advertising and marketing intelligence service Experian Hitwise studied the impact of the paywall on traffic to NYTimes.com by comparing total visits and page views from a 12-day period in late February to early March with a similar period in late March to early April.
Total visits to the site decreased between five and 15 percent for all of the days except the last Friday, which saw nearly no change at all, and Saturday, which somehow saw a seven percent increase in traffic. Experian attributes that anomaly to fears in the public and media that the U.S. government was shutting down as a result of budget discussion deadlock.
Page views, visualized above, dropped an even more dramatic 11 to 30 percent each day.
From the moment it was announced, the New York Times’ paywall has attracted tons of attention and buzz, much of it negative, because users are not really accustomed to paying for content on the Internet, especially content in the form of mere text, with the occasional rich media. From videos on YouTube to music on Pandora, users expect advertisers to sponsor their online experiences. Even beyond content, users balk at the idea of paying money. Cloud storage? Maybe, but probably not. Banking services? It’s a right, not a privilege. Social networking services? Dream on.
And that’s exactly why the paywall has so many holes built into it. Everyone gets access to at least 20 articles each month for free and any articles shared via Facebook or Twitter are always free to see. The New York Times doesn’t want to kill off its traffic, it just wants to charge the real heavyweight readers.
If the data from Experian is the beginning of a trend, then the Times’ experiment will have been an utter failure. But if, on the other hand, this is just a preliminary hit that the news company was expecting, then the paywall might actually be doing its job.
Personally, as a casual New York Times reader, I completely forgot about the paywall even being in effect. In fact, I had to do a Google image search to see what the user sees once they’ve hit their 20 article limit (I’ve embedded it below). That said, there are still two and a half weeks left in April...