Paying for quality news – a sign of The Times.

The Times paywall was launched in July 2010. Image from thetimes.co.uk.

The Times revealed today that they have “close to 200,000 digital users” since they introduced a paywall for access to their websites last July.

They promised investment for their high quality journalism in a bid to avoid what editor James Harding called a “suicidal form of economics – giving our journalism away for free” on the Today programme.

Many of the media outlets had an opinion on the figures, many of which were unsurprising. BBC News online, for example, led with the fact that they’ve lost 87% of their web users.

Certainly, when News International launched the paywall back in July doubts were raised on its very first day when the Independent’s web figures surpassed The Times for the first time, but this was inevitable.

 

Analysis of the figures

So, the key question today is ‘were the figures were any good’? Well, unsurprisingly it depends who you ask, but the overarching view seems to be that they were ok.

A break down reveals that 105,000 have paid to access the site in any form, of which around 50,000 are monthly subscribers to the website, or the kindle/ iPad editions. This leaves the other 55,000 as being one-off-users. A further 100,000 subscribe to the print version of the paper and have activated their free digital subscription.

The Times on an iPad - potentially lucrative. Image sourced from Wiki Commons. Author Unknown.

The problem is that we can’t read much into these figures – almost certainly deliberately. They sound pretty good, but when you unravel that someone who tested the iPad app out free for a day and once subscribed for £1 for 24 hours access, could be counted twice in the 55,000 ‘pay-as-you-go’ users, it seems less impressive.

However, without a precise breakdown, commentators can only guess how much money they are making.

The iPad £9.99 a month subscription is lucrative, so if a good proportion of the 50,000 subscribers are for the Ipad app then the business model could yet prove itself.

James Murdoch, Chief Executive of News Corporation. Image sourced from Wiki Commons, by Esther Dyson.

 

Response from News International

News International were unsurprisingly on the media offensive. James Harding told The Today programme on Radio 4 “we are hugely encouraged by the figures.” Whilst Rebekah Brooks, Chief Executive of News International reflected that the figures show a “large number of people are willing to pay for quality journalism in digital formats.”

James Murdoch, News Corporation Chief Executive, said they were “very excited by the progress we have made in a very short space of time,” before concluding that “customers will respond to investment, innovation and quality that are the hallmarks of our titles and our company.”

 

Are The Times ahead of everyone else?

If we are to believe recent suggestions that UK newspapers may die within ten years then there has to be an advantage in being the first to charge for digital access.

Also, given newspapers largely exist because of advertising, it is logical that advertisers will have waning interest in lower audiences in the coming years, especially in an age where the opportunity to target specific users online has never been greater.

Perhaps News International will soon be proved right in being the first to move their audience online for a small fee.

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