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So the inevitable is upon us; Rupert Murdoch has at last announced the final details of the Times Online pay wall, due to be implemented in June.  

Whether you think this is a good thing or not for the news industry as a whole, it has certainly thrown up a compelling argument in its favour, in terms of digital marketing. 

The type of engaged, specific and relevant audience that the Times Online can attract is an online advertiser’s dream, and the wealth of demographic information available will be unrivalled to that of any other UK national news site. Creating this elite pool of consumers will automatically increase the value of each specific user, turning Times Online readers into a monetisable audience.

This puts News International in a reasonably strong position to argue for charging advertisers a premium for having access to their elite subscribers. Research has shown that where targeted adverts are placed on the type of niche website that a dedicated audience selects to regularly use, the brands being advertised are viewed by consumers as having the endorsement of the site that they are on. Such is the loyalty and the halo effect granted to these types of sites by their dedicated supporters.

All successful advertisers know that targeting, whether in the form of behavioural targeting or bespoke adverts on niche, relevant websites, goes a long way towards gaining access to a receptive and relevant goldmine of consumers. The game is no longer about reach, it’s about relevance.

Smarter, creative and more intelligent advertisers recognise that, to overcome tighter ad budgets and increased pressure to deliver results, targeting an engaged, relevant and interactive audience is vital.

Alongside the paywall, News International has announced that it will end its ABCe auditing account which currently measures monthly unique users for Times Online and The Sun website. As the drop in user numbers is likely to be significant, it does seem a sensible choice, from a business perspective, to distance the paper from a traditional, reach-focused measurement tool. However, this move also indicates a shift away from counting unique users, in exchange for amassing a relevant and loyal audience of followers.

Whilst experience tells us that this may not be the easiest message to get across to media land, this change in publisher attitude should be hugely welcomed by the online ad industry. We all know that the current attribution and measurement models have their shortcomings, and whilst there may not be any successful alternatives to measurement just yet, an acceptance that a smaller but more targeted exposure will breed a better rate of return, could finally see niche advertisers receiving the acknowledgment and attribution from brands that they deserve.

Currently there is still a widespread lack of awareness from publishers that the scatter-gun approach of exposing as many people as possible to an advert, regardless of its relevance, just isn’t as successful. However, News International’s change in attitude could hopefully spread more widely across publisher platforms.

The only part of Murdoch’s plan that doesn’t quite fit in with this business argument is the apparent disregard for the value of Times Online advertising its own brand to the 20m unique users who currently visit the site every month.

20m is a huge number of people to which to demonstrate the quality of content and journalism on the website, in a bid to tempt them to buy the paper, or subscribe online.

It’s interesting that there has been no mention of an FT-style service of offering a limited amount of articles for free per month to attract subscribers. This is despite the fact that, by all accounts, this approach works well as demonstrated by the growing number of niche publications such as New Scientist and Economist who have recently adopted this approach. 

Harvey Sarjant

Published 6 April, 2010 by Harvey Sarjant

Harvey Sarjant is managing partner at Addvantage Media and a guest blogger at Econsultancy.

5 more posts from this author

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Duncan Pringle

I think it's a good thing for the news industry and the digital industry as a whole. The question here for the Times of course is, does 20 million unique users equal 20 million people and the answer is no. That is why Murdoch is not bothered. A unique user is a machine so one person accessing a website from multiple machines, work computer, home computer, phone, remote machine in an internet cafe etc. is 4 unique users but one person. The quicker everyone understands that the better.The Guardian, The Telegraph and all the other papers will have to stop quoting silly reach figures and start demonstrating how many people actually read there editorial. Murdoch has gained a massive advantage by being the first to admit it.

The next battle ground should be TV. How can the BARB panel of 5,000 people be upweighted to a population of ever changing viewing habits. It should have digital style accountability by now.

How can TV impacts be compared to online views of content that are requested? (Click to view) Surely the latter is more valuable. If I don't use the ad break to make a cup of tea I just pause the TV and fast forward through the ads when I sit back down.

Engagement not interuption. Accountability not estimation.

Happy Easter!

over 6 years ago

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Katrina Douglas

After reading this article I think it is sustainable, my initial thought was that it would not be. I guess it's the 20/80 rule, more profitable to focus on the 20% or so of die hard supporters and provide them with real value than the 80% or so that aren't really bothered

over 6 years ago

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xavier Izaguirre

Great article.

It seems The Times strategy is well thought through.

As a bit of a side dish to the article... Do you think paywalls will increase readership of blogs? And with readership, creation, sharing, engagement, PR commitment?

Best regards

over 6 years ago

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Alec Cochrane

I'm still not convinced by the approach of the Times. As mentioned at the end, the 'freemium' model as picked up by the Economist, FT and NS seems to be a more successful model. With the current model the Times will have no way of increasing its audience other than word of mouth and I'm not convinced that will wash on the internet. However I'm sure we won't know whether it has worked immediately. Firstly we will have to wait to see if the advertisers do start paying the additional prices for their market (and this includes whether the Times is going to harvest data from its database of users). Secondly we'll have to see if the users do pay up for using it. Thirdly we'll have to see if either of those two things plateau over time and what the Times can do about it. I hope that the Times don't think that this is a 'build it and they will come' model and they are really going to have to be harsh with their advertising to drive people to the site. It may also depend on whether the advertisers think that the increased cost of targeted marketing is worth the smaller reach (especially given that they are unlikely to get direct return on their display advertising, making it difficult to measure). Needless to say it will be interesting to watch and it may not be obvious whether it works or not.

over 6 years ago

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Duncan Pringle

Stephen makes many valid points in his post. However the crucial one is whether the Times is better than any other news source. The point here being that there are multiple news sources, the detail and USP for "newspapers" is their comment and analysis and the Journalists reporting it. Having worked for The Guardian during the mid 1990's this was certainly a big selling point or USP for the paper as it is for other braodsheets. It depends on whose view the reader identifies with. I now get my paper news from The Sunday Times, ironically as do most Guardian readers. I feel this gives me far more insight than any other "news" sources during the week and therefore worth the cover price. In fact BBC news seems so dumbed down now I can hardly bear watching it. If readers know they will be getting that quality of journalism, comment and analysis The Times should succeed.
Regards

over 6 years ago

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discount headphone

Particularly gratifying is how – unlike some ‘normal’ Sony TVs – dark scenes suffer scarcely at all with an inconsistent backlight, looking uniformly, impressively black all the way across.

over 6 years ago

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