New York Times Pay Wall Gets More Than 100,000 Takers in Early Weeks

No Word on Impact to Web Traffic or Ad Revenue, but 100,000 New Credit Cards for The Times

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Credit: AP

More than 100,000 people have forked over credit-card numbers to get through the digital pay wall erected by the New York Times on March 28.

More than 100,000 takers seems like a solid start for the new plan, which many people called too expensive and confusing when it arrived last month after a long development period.

But that figure, which the New York Times Co. disclosed this morning as it announced its financial results for the first quarter, remains wide open to interpretation. The Times Co. earnings announcement didn't address how the fledgling pay wall, for one thing, has affected traffic and ad revenue.

It's also impossible to tell how many more people will sign up. Because the pay scheme confronts people based on their monthly Times consumption, it should have already forced many potential subscribers, and certainly the heaviest Times Online readers, to decide whether to pay up or cut back.

That's not the case, of course, for readers who received and signed up for a promotion underwritten by Ford Motor's Lincoln brand that offered 200,000 heavy Times Online readers free, unlimited digital access for the rest of the year. They won't have to choose whether to pay until 2012. People who accepted the Lincoln deal are not included in The Times' count of 100,000 digital subscribers.

"Digital-subscription packages on and across other digital platforms have been well received, and approximately three weeks after the global launch, paid digital subscribers have surpassed 100,000," The Times said in its announcement. "So soon after the launch, the Company does not yet have visibility into conversion and retention rates for these paying customers after the initial promotional period, although early indicators are encouraging."

Under the Times pay scheme, home-delivery subscribers get unfettered digital access and everyone else gets 20 free articles per month. If you don't get home delivery but want to read more than 20 articles a month, you need to sign up for one of several digital-subscription packages, the cheapest of which provides access to the website and a smartphone app for $15 every four weeks.

The Times is running a promotion that offers the first four weeks of unlimited digital access for 99 cents, subscriptions that are included in the 100,000 count disclosed today. Takers are automatically renewed at standard prices, though, if they don't actively unsubscribe.

The Times, and the many other newspaper publishers closely watching its effort, hope that new digital-subscription revenue more than offsets any decline in digital readers and advertising the pay wall may cause. Janet L. Robinson, president-CEO of the New York Times Co., told Ad Age last month that perhaps 15% of the paper's digital audience was likely to encounter the new pay wall.

An early analysis by Experian Hitwise, the online analytics company, found that visits to the New York Times Online were generally 5% to 15% lower in the 12 days following the pay wall's implementation than in the 12 days prior. Page views came in 11% to 30% lower. Traffic to news sites depends, however, on a variety of factors, including the news of the day.

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