Summary:

News International’s silence on subscriber numbers for Times and Sunday Times online content continues, three and a half months after the pa…

Sunday Times' paywall story

News International’s silence on subscriber numbers for Times and Sunday Times online content continues, three and a half months after the paywall went up. But today audience research company Nielsen has taken a stab at estimating the number of UK web users who are going beyond the papers’ website front pages – and paywall – and accessing subscription content: an average of 362,000 per month between July and the end of September.

Nielsen also estimates that 1.78 million monthly unique UK visitors went to the thetimes.co.uk and sunday times.co.uk front pages on average over the period – suggesting that of those, just over 20% are going on to access subscription content.

In the three months up to the end of June, before the paywall went up, Times Online – offering content from both papers – averaged 3.1 million unique monthly visitors, according to Nielsen.

This suggests that traffic to the front pages has declined by nearly 43% and the number of going through to individual stories by just over 88% since the News International titles began charging £1 a day or £2 a week for access to content on both websites on 2 July.

It is also unclear how many of the 362,000 monthly visitors Nielsen identifies as climbing over the paywall are new subscribers.

The Nielsen figures include traffic generated by users who were given free online trials, or get free web access thrown in with their print subscription to the Times or Sunday Times. Nielsen has not calculated how many users took advantage of the free online trial offer.

Around 150,000 people had registered for thetimes.co.uk or sundaytimes.co.uk before News International introduced the paywall. Many of them will have benefited from a free or heavily discounted month-long trials.

Subscribers to the print editions of the Times and Sunday Times also have access to both websites for no additional cost. The Times has about 107,000 subscribers, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, and the Sunday Times more than 112,000.

Nielsen points out that it wanted to calculate the size of the Times and Sunday Times online audience, rather than establishing how many people are paying to view their websites.

It argues that the 362,000 monthly unique visitor figure will interest advertisers. News International has said in the past that readers who visit a paid-for site are more valuable to advertisers because they are likely to spend longer online.

News International declined to comment.

A separate analysis carried out by Hitwise, another web traffic measurement firm, has also found there has been a “large reduction” in visits to the Times website since May. The market share of the Times website had fallen from well over 10% in May to 4.11% at the end of last week, Hitwise said.

The Nielsen figures were compiled by analysing web addresses that can only be viewed once users are behind the Times and Sunday Times paywall. Nielsen’s analysis does not include other data such as the number of page views per user or the average time users spend on the site, which are both regarded as important ways of measuring the success of websites.

Nielsen also emphasised its figures have been calculated by using traffic generated by UK homes and business premises, not public spaces such as internet cafes, airports or educational establishments. Traffic from mobile phones and non-UK users has also been excluded.

That means Nielsen’s monthly unique user figures for individual websites are lower than those provided by newspaper industry-approved traffic measure body ABCe, for instance.

For comparison, here are the Nielsen traffic figures for the Times/Sunday Times online and the three most popular UK newspaper websites:

Mail Online

Average monthly unique UK visitors, April-June 2010: 5.19 million

July-September: 5.387 million
guardian.co.uk

April-June: 4.825 million

July-September: 4.653 million
Telegraph.co.uk

April-June: 5.056 million

July-September: 4.495 million
The Times/Sunday Times

April-June (Times Online): 3.096 million

July-September (Times.co.uk/SundayTimes.co.uk): 1.782 milllion

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This article originally appeared in MediaGuardian.

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