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Media companies are experimenting with new business models all over the web. But this month, The London Times learned that even just asking for registration details can pretty steeply shrink audience numbers. According to Hitwise, The Times' registration page — for the paper's free content — dropped its market share by half. 

For publishers looking for more than just an email address from readers, there is reason to be wary.

Any publisher looking to charge for content in the near future is aware that revenue will come at the expense of readership. But the Times isn't charging its readers yet. It just asks for their email.

After June that will change. But there is reason to be concerned about the paper's future prospects online. Traffic to The Times' website, which remained pretty flat during April and May, tanked in June.

The paper’s market share has dropped from 4.37% during the week ending May 22nd to 2.67% in the week ending June 19th. On June 23, the paper's market share was down to 1.81%, less than half of the website's average in May.

It's not all bad. According to Hitwise:

"Registration can work as a screening device. People who are willing to take the time to register are much more likely to read content, return to a site and — hopefully — click on advertising."

But it's hard a hard sell to advertisers to explain that an audience is improving while dwindling away. That said, paying customers are highly valued by newspapers and magazines, and if The Times can get respectable numbers signing up next month, advertisers might not be too distraught.

Hitwise found that the average session times at The Times fell from five and a half minutes to three and a half minutes, which is significant, but considering that the people who did not register likely dwelled for a small amount of time, there's reason to think that registrations are going strong and those readers have spent a good amount of time exploring the site.

Those dwell rates are certainly better than the numbers released by Wiggin, a media law firm which predicted The Times could lose 90% of its readers when it launches its paywall. 

And for The Times' competitors there is definitely good news in the short term. The Telegraph, Guardian, Independent, Daily Mail and BBC New were all beneficiaries of the Times' registration page. The numbers aren't staggering, but if readers think they can get similar content with less hassle, they may not go back to the Times site.

Of course some visitor drop off is expected whenever a website puts a barrier between customers and content. But it's interesting that the Times went for registering before charging. This week when people have to start paying, the line between customer and casual visitor will become even more pronounced.

Meghan Keane

Published 28 June, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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Comments (4)

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Ian Williams

I got that screen, and just went straight to The Guardian. However, I bought The Times physical paper yesterday morning.

I like The Times and I understand their position, but part of me just doesn't see web content as something I want to pay for, primarily because I engage with it in a completley different manner to the physical. Physical, I sit with and read for 1-2 hours. Online, I just browse and skim articles.

Something about content on a screen, no matter if it is identical, makes me interact differently than I do with the physical - and that type of interaction is not one I am willing to pay for.

about 6 years ago

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Ian Williams

Hi Phil,

Getting back to you late here. Yes, I agree completely. I myself have written for newspapers, tried to break into that industry, and I know how tight the purse strings are currently.

So, I sympathise to some extent. I'm a romantic to some extent and, like books, I much prefer the physical object than simple words on a screen. The trick to monetising digital content, for me, is that it has to offer a clear benefit as a product over physical papers and books. The ability to store lots of digital content in one device is not so beneficial with literature as it is with mp3 - after all, people generally don't flit between books/papers like they do albums; rather they tend to stick with one.

The only benefit the papers almost had me on was getting an auto download every morning to a bedside iPad or Kindle.  But that's not enough for me. We interact with digital differently because it is what we've grown to expect from all digital content. Right now, the newspapers don't offer enough to satisfy my expectation and desire to interact with, rather than simply receive, information. I also resent the lack of connectivity between the media - an offline purchase does not afford you online access for that day. This could be arranged simply through voucher codes or a 'daily security question' based on content found in the paper.

On a purely practical level, I bought The Times yesterday and left it on the train. When I got home I tried to find their tickets page, so I could buy a £10 ticket to a talk by Peter Mandelson. Paywall + removal from Google's SERP = an absolute nightmare. So I've ended up purchasing from an alternative vendor. £10 = a lot of Times newspapers.

about 6 years ago

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Jason Blirer

The content of The Times isn't good enough to be paying for.

I agree with preferring to read a physical newspaper and leave the internet more for skimming, and keeping that in mind, The Times isn't that much different from what you can get from other sites to make an online-only subscription worthwhile. Not being British, I only find Clarkson and some of the restaurant reviewers stand out from the crowd, as well as Bremner's blog on France occasionally, although he same old French strife and angst over their economy and workplace gets too boring to keep constant track of.

I would be more inclined subscribing to media when they provide lots of expert analysis - in-depth opposed to shallower covering of the lastest news items that you can find almost anywhere on the net nowadays - or a lot more coverage and follow-up of government, corporate and the like waste and mismanagement. That would stir my conscience into supporting what is really the only thing out there in the 4th Estate that will verify and take to account these things that really don't want our scrutiny.

about 6 years ago

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yohannes eshete

be nice

over 5 years ago

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