News International has suspended its membership to web traffic measuring firm ABC Electronic following its announcement it will introduce paywalls in June.

More publishers are adopting paywalls, with the likes of Johnston Press, Emap and The Spectator embracing paid content. But such models could affect the long-established metrics provided by ABCE.

The Times and Sunday Times will charge £1 for a day’s access to their online content or £2 for a weekly subscription. However, Times Online and The Sun will no longer be audited by ABCE as the publisher looks to metrics focused on loyalty and engagement instead of measuring unique users every month.

News International’s withdrawal comes as the unique browser figures from ABCE are becoming less relevant to publishers, as they look for alternative ways to measure their online audience.

Paul Hood, head of digital at Mirror Group Newspapers, said publishers should focus on other metrics, including engagement.

“More large-scale publishers are seeking loyal and engaged readers rather than chasing unique users, and this has focused attention on what to measure,” Hood said.

James Bromley, MD of Mail Online, said if News International suspends itself from ABCE, “the whole of the comparison becomes less about size and more about quality. It’s important for us to articulate the type of quality audience and focus on engagement.”

Hood said MGN is focused on identifying engagement metrics, such as frequency and dwell time.

A News International spokeswoman confirmed the suspension, adding, “We’re committed to working with ABCE to find a long-term resolution.”

Media agencies agree metrics other than unique browsers are becoming increasingly important. Emma Ellis, digital research manager at Media Contacts, said ABCE is useful but the focus is moving towards behavioural activity rather than clicks.

“Engagement is becoming more important. More clients want to know what the behavioural effects of their campaigns are,” she said.

Alex Randall, group trading director at Isobar, said, “ABCE isn’t a strong barometer of audience. Engagement and loyalty are really important but they’re difficult to measure. Reach is still important for a lot of campaigns, though.”

Richard Foan, MD of ABCE, said engagement metrics are already available from the measurement body. “Individual media owners choose whether to publish results of ABCE audits. It’s understandable that publishers are in regular dialogue with us as they make changes to their business models,” he said.

Last month ABCE introduced a global daily average online figure for newspaper publishers, following calls by publishers − including Simon Waldman, director of digital strategy at Guardian Media Group, in his new media age column last June − to shift the focus away from monthly figures.

However, the daily figure has had little impact so far. Mail Online’s Bromley said, “As a sector we have a responsibility to start focusing more on daily figures.”

MGN’s Hood said it was a small step forward. “Ad agencies have always measured reach and frequency, so a daily measurement is certainly more useful and relevant than monthly.”

News International announced last week that the Times and forthcoming Sunday Times sites will go behind a paywall, with the subscription providing users with access to the digital editions and new applications. CEO Rebekah Brooks said these are the first of four News International titles in the UK to take this approach.

Although the sites will receive less footfall, the value of each unique user will be higher, according to David Grunwald, media consultant at Deloitte. “It can target users more and advertise offers such as book clubs to help generate revenues,” he said.

The move to implement a paywall has drawn mixed reactions from analysts and agencies. Iain Preston, client director at agency LBi, questioned whether The Times’ content is exclusive enough to make people pay for it. “The key to The Financial Times’ success was that it already had registered users and subscribers,” he said.

Douglas McCabe, media analyst at Enders, described News International’s paywall strategy as “sensible”. “One of the issues with the ad model is it’s based on a large volume of users, but newspapers they get a small but very engaged readership,” he said.

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Published 1 April, 2010 by NMA Staff

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