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Summary:

Did The Sunday Times’ editor, in the UK, just admit his website’s about to lose nine tenths of its readers once charges are introduced?

Fr…

John Witherow

Did The Sunday Times’ editor, in the UK, just admit his website’s about to lose nine tenths of its readers once charges are introduced?

From a taping of BBC Radio 4’s upcoming Media Show: Press Gazette: “(John) Witherow said ‘the vast majority of readers’ – perhaps more than 90 percent – were likely to be lost once the paywall went up next month.”

» Listen to the show here

Either that’s a specific expectation, or no-one yet knows exactly by how much traffic will shrink next month, but is expecting some kind of loss. Sounds like Witherow is channelling research from over the last year, like our PCUK/Harris poll, which found only five percent of news site users would pay to continue reading – a typical premium-to-free ratio.

On that basis, we project Sunday Times web users would fall from an average 1.22 million a day (ABCe: Feb 2010) to 61,354 following June – but, frankly, we don’t know that for sure either; presumably News International has done its own research of its own readers.

Daily The Times editor James Harding told readers in March: “I think we will lose plenty of unique users, but we will grow the number of regular readers and, more important still, contributors to The Times. And I think we will attract a new kind of reader to The Times.” And Times assistant editor Tom Whitwell said:

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  1. Crosbie Fitch Wednesday, May 19, 2010

    Imagine the newspaper is a devout believer, and that copyright is their religion. They are embarking upon an act of faith comparable to believing that if they close their eyes they can walk through a pride of hungry lions and not only pass through unscathed but scavenge a side of beef along the way.

    As even they hint at, the business of selling copies and protecting a monopoly on the manufacture of those copies is coming to an end. The future is in journalism, not producing ‘news’ as content to fill copies up with. The future of the journalism business is selling journalism to those members of the public who want it produced and published so they can receive it.

    The moment of apostasy comes at the point you realise that when you’re selling journalism instead of copies, the last thing you want is to discourage anyone from promoting your writing. The last thing you want is to sue your readers for making their own copies, or even newspapers for printing it for that matter. The last thing you want is an 18th century monopoly designed for the Stationer’s Guild.

    If you want to sell your journalism you need as many readers as possible. When your readers are the pool from which your paying customers spawn you want more of them, not less. A paywall to a journalist is like a convent to a prostitute. It may be a way of preventing the sacrilege of unauthorised copies, but there ain’t much business there.

  2. 10% conversion free to paid isn’t bad :)

    What do unique users matter anyway if they’re a cost rather than profit center?

  3. 90% of revenues come from 10% of users, so as long as they keep the 10% of users who represent the 90% of revenues, they’ll be making the right decision and can grow from there.

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