Rupert Murdoch is just getting started with Newcorp.'s digital paywalls. After the (comparatively) great success that The Wall Street Journal has had charging for its website, Murdoch is looking to get more revenue for the company's other digital properties. First to go behind a paywall was The London Times.
It may be too early to tell, but if the first two weeks results are any indication, charging for general interest publications is going to be a hard sell.
It is expected that readership dwindles when publications go behind a paywall, but publishers aren't usually expecting the kind of drawback that we're seeing with some early paywall experiments.
Newsday now infamously attracted only 35 people subscribers to its website after three month behind a paywall. At The Times, simply asking readers to register to view the site in June led to a major loss of viewers. And now, two weeks into the paper's full paid experiment, it looks like only 1/10th of those registered viewers became paying subscribers. It could be worse. The paper was expected to lose 90% of its viewers.
Of course, paying readers are more valuable than drive by clickers. But no publication wants to see 90% of its viewership disappear.
However, readers aren't stupid. If they feel like they can get similar content elsewhere, they will go where it is free. For a general interest paper, that is a very high likelihood. And while The Wall Street Journal has seen success charging for its site, it has two things in its favor that other News Corp. websites do not.
- Highly specialized financial news.
- Corporate subscriptions.
Without those two elements, websites like The Times and Hulu need to get their paid model down to a science to bring in revenue without scaring off potential users.
The Sunday Times has the 40th-largest newspaper circulation in the world, and the daily version of the paper ranks at No. 100. It is guaranteed to lose some digital influence (and popularity) behind the paywall.
On the positive side, The Times is faring better than Newsday (at least). Meanwhile, according to unofficial numbers, The Times has 15,000 paying subscribers. In addition, there are an impressive 12,500 iPad subscribers.
iPad users aren't paying as much. The Times charges web visitors £2 per week or £1 per day. On the iPad it costs £10 per month for six days of content.
But that number is worth keeping an eye on. And bodes well. Perhaps not directly for The Times, but for paid publications. Considering how few people actually own an iPad, it's important that so many are ponying up for a paid newspaper subscription.
If such a large percentage of viewers are paying to view a newspaper on their iPads, it may actually be the case that Apple's device is the monetization vehicle that publications are hoping for.
If viewing a magazine or a newspaper is that much better on an iPad, and people are willing to pay for the experience, the transition from print to digital might not be as painful as some had feared. Of course, those viewers could just be bairgain shopping for the cheaper product.