But it's still revealing, and perhaps saddening, for some of the
paper's journalists, that The Times is seeing its prominence on the
web fade. In the weeks before the pay wall went up, it enjoyed
online market share of 4.29% in the print news and media category,
according to Experian Hitwise. By the week ending July 10, online
share had dropped to 1.43% -- 33% of where it had been five weeks
previously. By the week ending July 17, share had dropped even
further, to 1.37%.
The pay wall effect seems evident from other angles as well. The
Times Online attracted nearly 2.8 million visitors in May but only
2.2 million in June, a 21% decline, according to ComScore data. The
average time visitors spent on the site fell 24% from May to June,
meanwhile, and the number of pages visitors viewed sank 32%,
according to ComScore. U.K. newspaper sites as a whole saw unique
visitors slip 2%, time spent edge up 1.4% and pages viewed dip
The Times refused to comment on numbers, but those close to the
matter suggest that about 150,000 users registered for access to
the Times and Sunday Times while they were free, with 15,000
apparently agreeing to pay money.
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The site is currently promoting an offer of ?1 ($1.50) for a
30-day trial, after which the cost is either ?1 for a 24-hour pass,
or ?2 ($3) a week.
Although The Times will not discuss numbers, they are understood
to be trying to charge a premium for advertising behind the pay
wall. Sources indicate that ad rates have doubled to $45 per
It's wrong to get caught up in the traffic numbers, said John
Baylon, group digital trading director at SMG Group. "People are
asking the wrong questions," he said. "The point is to make money
out of the subscribers you have. It's about revenue per customer,
not the number of customers."
Advertisers on thetimes.co.uk include DHL, BPP flexible
learning, Hewlett Packard and Dubai property developer Emaar. Mr.
Baylon said that News International has not been selling the site
very hard, and are instead focusing on internal issues and looking
at how it is all working.
There are also numerous factors at work in these early days
beyond consumers' willingness to pay for news on the web. Mr.
Murdoch's News Corp., for example, needs to get the site better
sorted out. Readers have complained that it is slow and cumbersome,
making it a harder sell when there are so many other news and
lifestyle sites a quick click away.
The current Times pay wall is also an essentially "all or
nothing" offering, shutting out non-subscribers from almost all
content, but many commentators still favor a hybrid approach
including a bit more free content that's subsidized by advertising
and serves to draw in potential subscribers.
"I continue to believe that a mixed model, with multiple ways of
making money, is the only way for general news publishers," said
Hugo Drayton, CEO of InSkin Media.
"But it's a lot of hard work. There will be areas of content
that will prove 'payable,' but not general news. I am yet to be
convinced that the pay wall is more than part of the answer in a
complex, fast-changing market."
Mr. Baylon, on the other hand, is more optimistic about the
long-term prospects for the pay wall. "The consumer mindset is a
big boulder, but 15 years ago, when Murdoch started BSkyB, nobody
thought people would pay for TV when you could get it for free. Now
he has 10 million subscribers, built on the back of great
The Times experiment, and all the attendant adjustments that
will follow, needs to happen, said Graham Brown, founding director
of consultancy Mediasense. Consumers can gorge on free content all
day, but newspapers might not be able to survive without charging,
he said. "The internet is an all-you-can-eat buffet, but
eventually, like the music industry, newspapers will learn that
they can't continue that way. ... It's commendable that Murdoch is
prepared to take the risk."
News Corp.'s Sun and its Sunday sibling title, News of the
World, are expected to eventually follow The Times into some sort
of online pay strategy.
"They are likely to test all kinds of permutations -- it's their
train set after all -- and if they can find a way to make digital
content pay, then it's all worthwhile," Mr. Brown said.