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The Times Online Paywall Progress

John Pring

So The Times' paywall has been up since the beginning of the month, with the newspaper's strategists insisting that they are better placed serving a smaller, dedicated following that are happy to pay for their news, rather that the general, disinterested masses.

The Times Paywall

With analysts, SEO's, internet marketers and other publications all watching The Times' experiment extremely closely, numerous people (myself included) predicted that the company would struggle trying to sell news in an arena of freely accessible, up to date information. So how has it gone so far for the newspaper?

At first, things weren't looking as bad as many people had predicted for The Times, with analytics specialists Experian Hitwise reporting that around 66% of the sites traffic had disappeared. Although that doesn't sound like good news, strategists at the newspaper were expecting around a 90% drop in traffic, meaning they could possibly expect a higher percentage of paying subscribers.

However, the information isn't perhaps as promising as The Times might hope; the Hitwise website is only measuring traffic, taking no account of bounce rate. I would imagine a lot of people are going to the site, being met with the paywall and are leaving again, so that remaining 33% are almost certainly not all paying customers. It also doesn't take into account repeat visits, which I would expect to be fairly high, given people are paying for the daily content.

By the end of June, Hitwise reported that The Times' market share had dipped considerably, and that's before the full paywall went up (during the period the website was trialling the site):

uk_internet_visits_to_the_times_following_paywall_june_maye_april_2010_chart

I'm interested to see the next set of statistics from Hitwise, as I'd expect this market share to have continued to fall throughout June.

Then on Sunday, a site run by the former Times' media editor Dan Sabbagh called Beehive City reported that the actual numbers from The Times' paywall revealed an even worse situation for the newspaper.

In his blog post, Sabbagh suggested 150,000 people registered for The Times and the Sunday Times websites during their free trial period. Of that 150,000 however, only 15,000 have signed up to the actual paid service, suggesting that 90% of people were refusing to pay for the content, even after they'd be granted free access to it for a short period of time.

On a slightly more promising note for the staff at The Times, the seperate iPad application appears to be doing extremely well, with around 12,500 paid downloads since it was introduced.

time_ipad_app

Considering the application costs £9.99 for 30 days (more than the online paywall version), 12,500 is an impressive number - particularly when you take into account that not that many people own an iPad.

This is an interesting piece of information and I'd be interested to see if the iPad versions' popularity continues over the next few months. Perhaps people are simply more willing to pay for for applications through iPad and iPhones than they are for regular internet use. Or it may be that those people who already have an iPad, generally speaking, have more disposable income.

It's a little too soon into the experiment to get a firm idea on the success or failure of the paywall, but early indications don't look great for The Times. It will be an interesting couple of months seeing how it plays out, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who's interested.



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