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UK Times’ Paid Take-Up: ‘In The Land Of Two To Five Percent’?

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The bets so far on how Rupert Murdoch’s Times Online in the UK will fare when it starts charging

— Times editor James Harding reckons on losing “plenty” of users.
— Sunday Times ed John Witherow expects a drop-off of over 90 percent.
— Our own PCUK/Harris poll of news website users suggests only five percent would pay.

Now here’s another stab

Respected research agency Enders’ analyst Douglas McCabe has surveyed the 20+ U.S. newspaper sites that are currently charging. Presenting to Westminster Media Forum event Thursday, he said: “When you look at the US, roughly one to two percent of your audience, in terms of circulation, are prepared to pay.”

I asked if that can be mapped on to the UK, where applying that kind of proportion to The Times’ approximately 500,000 daily circulation would result in between only 5,000 and 10,000 paying customers each day…

Difficult to say yet, McCabe said, but: “You’re in that land. You’re in the land of two to five percent probably.”

That ratio would give between 10,000 and 25,000 customers a day – or about £10,000 to £25,000 income every 24 hours, assuming everyone took the £1 daily rate rather than the £2 weekly option or a longer-term bundled print subscription. That’s about a million quid a year.

All of this is conjecture. No-one will know until it happens, and then only News International (it’s stopped publishing ABCe metrics). But Times digital director Gurtej Sandhu last night told paidContent:UK: “We did endless research. We did a lot of research. Is it something we think will generate enough revenue for the future? Absolutely.” He declined to disclose internally projected drop-off, citing commercial confidentiality.

Trinity Mirror (LSE: TNI) digital director Matt Kelly told paidContent:UK: “It’s a valuable experiment for us all. Do I think it’s going to succeed? I think they’re up against it. Why would you choose to go to The Times when there’s so much out there on The Telegraph, why would you choose to go to The Sun when there’s free stuff out there on The Mirror?

“It would be interesting to see how that new, distinctive free-to-air Times would survive in a free-to-air market.”

As News International starts charging, should The Independent bite and drop its cover price? Enders’ McCabe: “I don’t think it would make any financial sense – it would be very difficult to make it work. But it’s a possibility, not least because of the Independent’s (current small) scale.”

2 Responses to “UK Times’ Paid Take-Up: ‘In The Land Of Two To Five Percent’?”

  1. So the interesting thing with the Times is that it gets around 30% of visitors bookmarked / direct URL access. If they can convert 10% of those core brand followers to paying (which is what would give them 3%) then that, I imagine News Corps execs are thinking, is not unreasonable conversion rate.

    Remember when the Guardian put its Media Guardian section behind registration? It didn’t last long because the traffic drop off was massive and made the model unworkable (that’s why the Guardian can commit to never charging, because they have experience of putting up barriers and seeing failure).

    Standard conversion metrics don’t apply here – the Times execs will probably see something like 0.5% of core brand followers prepared to pay – that’s 500-1000 customers a day. And if they are prepared to pay they will go for the cheaper option long term and subscribe to the weekly option, which will generate not very much revenue at all. Although they will have user data to facilitate more accurate ad targeting, there won’t be much inventory on offer.

    But News Corp have Sky and other profitable businesses – they will take the hit, pretend all is well and tempt other newspapers down a path that won’t work. It’s a trap!