At the beginning of July, Rupert Murdoch’s press empire moved to charge for access to The Times and The Sunday Times web sites. Up to now, this has been at a charge of £1 for a day’s access, or £2 for a week’s access. Perhaps I’m just a cheapskate, but when I’m referred to these sites I decline to pay to read it, moving on to other sites. I was interested to see that Media Week has some interesting statistics on the effect of the new paywall strategy (Times loses 1.2 million readers – Media news – Media Week). The numbers are quite startling:
News International launched its separate Thetimes.co.uk and Thesundaytimes.co.uk websites on 25 May. It made registration compulsory and began redirecting users from the old site on 15 June and started charging for access to both sites on 2 July.
According to ComScore, the combined number of unique visitors to the two new sites has fallen to 1.61 milion in July, from 2.22 million in June, and 2.79 million in May.
The average number of minutes each user spent on the site was 7.6 in May, 5.8 in June and 4 in July.
Page views have dropped from 29 million in May to 20 million in June and 9 million in July.
I imagine that this reflects the casual page viewers such as me choosing not to pay to read a page they’re not absolutely desperate to view. On the one hand one could view this as a huge drop in web page visitors, but as Jack of Kent pointed out via Twitter, one could view this as a gain of 1.6 million paying visitors. I guess it remains to be seen how advertisers react to this, and whether any decline in advertising revenue is more than made up for by the subscription income.
It seems that some newspapers are banking on the appearance on internet/media consumption devices such as the iPad, and the soon to be launched competitors running on Linux-related and Windows-related operating systems to reinvigorate the newspaper business. But it seems to me that the joy of newspaper browsing on the web is that I can collect views from across the political spectrum of newspapers, while only buying into one. What’s interesting is that the readers don’t appear to have defected to other newspapers’ websites: presumably supporting my supposition that the deflected readers are casual browsers rather than dedicated readers.
Personally, I think that it’s too early to conclude anything from the data available to date – I expect executives over at News International are poring over the figures in quite some detail. After all page view numbers aren’t the only statistic in town.