The paywall introduced by The New York Times at the end of March is hurting traffic to its website, as expected, but perhaps within acceptable levels.
The New York Times' share of United States page views for all newspaper websites dropped from 13% in March to 10.6% in April, its lowest share in 12 months, according to new data from ComScore.
Page views from March to April declined 24.4% at The New York Times Online while slipping just 7.5% for newspaper sites as a group, according to the new ComScore numbers.
Year-over-year comparisons -- comparing April 2011 to April 2010, for example -- are inadvisable in the case of The New York Times because it adopted a different ComScore measurement methodology in May 2010.
The New York Times pointed out that some other news sites saw big declines after the big events of March, such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, yielded to a quieter period in April. Yahoo News saw page views decline 23.9% and MSNBC.com saw page views slide 21.4%, according to a Times spokeswoman. Those sites are included in Comscore's general news category, not its newspapers category.
"When you look at these numbers at Yahoo News and MSNBC that suggests that there was a dip in news," the spokeswoman said. "Despite that , and given that this is the first month where you can see the traffic patterns post-digital subscription launch, these are actually better numbers than our internal projections."
"Despite the significance of the news, which can't be discounted, we retained our ranking in terms of unique users, page views and engagement, and that 's important," she added. "So to us these are very strong and we're very pleased."
An analyst also said today that the paywall may be working. "Our framework suggests that even if The New York Times loses 20% of its web traffic, it will need to add about 107k subscribers to break even," Citi analyst Leo Kulp said in a note to investors.
Times Co. management said during its first-quarter conference call on April 21 that it had already added 100,000 subscribers, Mr. Kulp noted. That doesn't count home-delivery subscribers who get digital access free or the heavy users enjoying free access all year courtesy of a Lincoln promotion, but it does count people still enjoying a 99-cent introductory rate for their first four weeks.
"While we don't know how many of these are trial subscribers and won't convert, we think we can assume most of the subscribers are long-term," Mr. Kulp said.
"Based on our framework, we suspect the paywall is approaching breakeven on just the paying subscribers added in the first three weeks post-launch," he added in his note. "Furthermore, NYT will likely see a boost to revenue from Lincoln's sponsorship of 100k subscribers as well as the increase in print subscriptions post-launch, which is important because the print version is still very profitable."
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