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.

  1. Highly specialized financial news.
  2. 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.

Meghan Keane

Published 20 July, 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 (6)

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John Courtney

John Courtney, CEO and Executive Chairman at Pay on Results SEO, Content Marketing, Social Media, Digital PR, PPC & CRO from Strategy Digital

iPads are the key here, if you have one then paying £2 a week is nothing. The other factor is what are the other papers going to do. Even if The Times is your favourite, its easy to go to The Telegraph if that's free.

almost 8 years ago


Peter Blackman

A cornerstone of The Times argument for the paywall is that quality journalism is worth paying for. 

Which makes your typo (compartively) in your first line quite interesting. Did noone sub your article before it went live?

It's little things like that which might drive me behind the paywall.....


almost 8 years ago


Nick Taylor

What's happened here is that all the jackdaw fanboys slept outside the apple shop door so they could get an iPad first thing in the morning...

... then found that they had to spend more money to do things with it.

So they did. Apple has an emasculated, tethered model - which will fall prey to any open variant that hits the shelves. I read somewhere recently that Android was now outselling iPhone - both on around 24% of market share.

And so it goes.

"quality journalism" - of the type that helped get us into the Iraq war - and frankly, has become so despicably shilly that it ought to be put in the stocks and pelted with pig-shit..."quality journalism" might be worth paying for, but even if that provides a viable business model, it's size of audience that matters. It's audience size that has allowed Murdoch to be such a poisonous influence over the British democratic process... even though he isn't actually British.

The Guardian has a workable model - makes about 75 million a year on advertising AND has a huge audience.

So that's my rant for the day.

almost 8 years ago


Nick Peters

Nick Taylor - while I believe ultimately, many moons hence, we will be paying for some content, the tide is still moving in the direction of free access, which is why your point re Android/iPhone is well made. Apple may well get the credit for technology that forced others to catch up, but if they remain tethered, the freedom model will outstrip them every time.

Peter Blackman - your readiness to pay for a typo-free universe is laudable. However, it is the quality of what's being written that matters, although I agree typos do distract. The Grauniad has however survived for years typo-strewn - readers will come back for the content.

And by the way, it's "no one", not "noone". 

almost 8 years ago


Chris Clark

The Times move is somewhere between a serious risk to complete madness, and the news leaking out suggests it is still somewhere in this category.

The issue I have with paywalls for general news is the restriction in choice of news that other newspapers may carry, or have a different angle on.

For example, papers have editiorial bias.  A Bank of England decision might be interpreted in 3 ways by 3 newspapers, but I certainly won't pony up £6 to read all three, especially if I am not interested in the rest of the news content on any of them.

However, there is of course the case that good content should command payment, and I would suggest the industry looks instead at paying per article using a micrropay system linked to PayPal or Oystercard (you can buy tea with Oystercard now).  Rates could be 3p - 10p per article, some free, and I easily read 50 per week.

Plus the newspapers would soon find out what's popular and what's not.

over 7 years ago


News For General

The Guardian has a workable model - makes about 75 million a year on advertising AND has a huge audience.

about 7 years ago

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