Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Media professionals try and estimate the impact on web readership of Murdoch's paywall at the Times (UK)

The Guardian says that The Times (U.K.) has lost up to 90 percent of its online readers as a result of the institution of a paywall. A blogger seems to agree but gets a vague contradiction in his comments by a Times representative.

Everyone in media wants to know the impact of Murdoch's new paywall -- especially, I would assume, the folk at the New York Times who are readying their own version of a paywall. But real numbers will be hard to come by now that The Times has withdrawn from ABC auditing of its site.

In an article on The Guardian site, Josh Halliday tries to estimate the effect of the paywall, concluding that fall off has been dramatic. Using metrics from Experian Hitwise Halladay paints a grim picture.
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The pop-up page web users get when they click on a news story on The Times website.  →

Of course, The Guardian has a dog in this fight as they have consistently touted an open web, believing that trying to monetize traffic through a paywall will end up being counterproductive as traffic would decline leading to a loss of advertising revenue. Back in January Guardian editor Alan Rusbridge spoke at the Annual Hugh Cudlipp Lecture at the London College of Communication and said that The Guardian team had looked at paywall models and were skeptical.

"They've done lots of modeling around at least six different pay wall proposals and they are currently unpersuaded" Rusbridger said at the time. "They're looked at the argument that free digital content cannibalizes print – and they look at the ABC charts showing that our market share of paid-for print sales is growing, not shrinking, despite pushing aggressively ahead on digital. They don't rule anything out. But they don't think it's right for us now."

One blogger also tried to estimate readership of the new Times website by looking at the number of comments now appearing on the site and comes to an equally grim conclusion.  But Tom Whitwell, an assistant editor and head of online at The Times responded in comments saying that the blogger was "*spectacularly* underestimating that number" (emphasis in the original). He did not give specifics, however.

Whitwell had previously told the Journalism.co.uk site that The Times too had looked at various models and had determined a paywall was the way to go. "We came to a fork in the road. We had two paths leading away from us: remaining free or charging for content. Other newspapers were using other models, writing lots of celebrity coverage or filling their pages with hundreds of stories, which was working for them but I'm not sure it was for The Times," Whitwell told Rachel McAthy earlier this month.

Again Whitwell did not give specifics concerning traffic performance since the move but said at the time that the response had been "positive".