People ARE subscribing to Times Online
The Times Online has lost two-thirds of its audience since putting up its paywall, according to Hitwise data – a figure that doesn’t tally with the doom-laden predictions of recent weeks.
Indeed, we wrote last week that according to the sources of US media columnists Michael Wolff , no one is subscribing to The Times paywall. He said the newspaper’s website has been turned into an “empty world”.
But that world is not quite as empty as Wolff made out. According to data published yesterday, The Times has seen its online audience fall to 33% of its pre-paywall size.
The data, which has been collated by internet monitoring firm Experian Hitwise, relates to the week following the erection of the paywall. Industry observers had been expecting to see a far more dramatic drop in subscribers – as much as 90%, according to some.
As relatively upbeat as the Hitwise figures are, there is an important point to consider – News International’s introductory charge of £1 for the first 30 days (versus the planned £1 per day or £2 per week charge) would surely have softened the blow to subscriber numbers.
Interestingly, Experian’s data shows that The Times Online’s biggest audience drop was in the five weeks prior to the introduction of charges, when users were asked to register their personal details in order to access content – the site lost 58% during that period.
Media news blog Beehive City, which was set up my former Times journalists including media editor Dan Sabbagh, sheds more light on the impact of the Times paywall. According to user data it has obtained, the number of people registering for The Times and Sunday Times during the free trial period was 150,000; while the number of people actually agreeing to fork out cash was 15,000.
So, while the loss of two thirds of its audience is not nearly as dramatic as some commentators had been predicting, it is nevertheless a massive decline, one that will surely be exacerbated when the introductory charges are lifted.
Those putting a positive spin on the figures argue that it’s still early days and that the coming months will see The Times Online build its subscriber base. But the problem with that view is that it supposes that there are enough people still undecided about whether to subscribe.
If Times Online is such a valuable source of news, information, comment etc. then why hold back? The idea that there is a huge number of Times Online junkies out there going cold turkey – whose withdrawal pangs will eventually become irrestistible and thus see them paying out for their regular Times fix – just doesn’t wash.