The Paywall Revisited close

Nick Woodbine
Nick Woodbine
In Musings, Online Innovation, Press
15th September 2010
The Paywall Revisited

Back in April I wrote a blog post about the then impending Times Paywall, pontificating on the approach that Murdoch has taken and whether I thought it would work or not. A couple of months have passed since the paywall went up so I thought I would stick my nose in again to see how things are shaping up.

News International are being pretty cagey with both statistics and an official assessment of the first 2.5 months of paid for content. Snippets of information have escaped, and external sources have claimed knowledge, revealing figures which, on the face of it, don’t look too promising for advocates of paid-for news content on the web.

Figures suggest that only 15,000 subscribers had signed up by the end of July despite running an initial (and ongoing) promotional offer of £1 for 30 days access. The Times were, it is said, prepared for such a brutal dropoff, with some sources claiming they were anticipating a 90% fall in uniques. But low user numbers will surely be the cause of wider problems, with Advertisers understandably reticent to buy space on a site with no traffic, ad sales revenues will plummet. Similarly PR firms will look to other publishing streams to push their content rather than let it sit away, undiscoverable by the scuttling spiders of the Search Engines in the empty, echoey halls of The Times.

Rumour has it that the journalists themselves are by no means thrilled by their move, unhappy that their work is reaching fewer and fewer people. The chat rooms are empty, the copy reaching precious few eyes and the discontent is almost palpable in tweets such as this by Caitlin Moran, sent during a temporary lapse in the paywall in early September.

Caitlin Moran on Twitter

Hopes that the paywall would increase sales of the print edition have also been dealt a blow with sales figures down month on month since it launched in July – it must be worrying times at News International.

Yet there is a glimmer of hope… by the end of July, 12,500 people had downloaded the Times iPad app on a £9.99 per month subscription basis. Not bad, particularly given that the penetration of the iPad – in fact is it currently 7th in the top grossing iPad apps. This goes some way to confirm my belief that paid-for apps are the way to monetise news content as they are tangible products with perception of value. Furthermore, the Times iPad Application is unique – there are no other quality UK news publishers out there doing the same thing on the same platform. The biggest issue that Murdoch is facing in trying to monetise his website is that there are dozens of competitors out there giving the same stuff away for free.

I doubt Murdoch will be quick to retreat, however, and at the time of writing there are plans afoot to erect a paywall around the Sun and News of the World sites. This would surely be a foolhardy move, certainly in the light of the statistics mentioned above. If the Times demographic is proving reluctant to part with it’s cash, then I doubt the average Sun reader will be throwing his hard-earned lucre towards Docklands.