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Many observers cite five percent as an industry benchmark for proportion of paying customers against free users in a freemium service environment. That’s exactly what Spotify has.
But, from a pre-paywall readership of 20 million unique monthly users, to a base of 105,000 cumulative reader payments in the last four months (figs, analysis), The Times has encouraged just 0.5 percent of its online audience at most to pay.
Consider that only half of these subscribe, as opposed to pay per day, and you see that just 0.25 percent of The Times’ online audience have become regular customers.
It sounds “disastrous”, as the naysayers would put it. But then, The Times is not operating a freemium service, and it has made a grand, long-term strategic readjustment in its conception of the role of readers between its output and its income – from “visitors” to “customers”…
It will shed few tears for the 99.5 percent of visitors, many of whom had flown briefly in and through from search engines, who have not paid up – their disinterest is just the price paid for courting a loyal audience of ongoing, engaged customers.
One more reason we can’t talk in conventional “conversion” terms – The Times hasn’t only launched new websites; it’s launched new products it didn’t have before, namely the iPad edition…
News International execs are bullish about the tablet opportunity and, though they’re not today detailing how many of The Times’ 52,250 cross-platform subscribers are iPad subscribers, it’s likely high. This would skew the figures in to suggesting the website is, comparatively, even less popular.
“Over a couple of a million people look at the front page of The Times,” editor James Harding told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“We were engaged in a quite suicidal form of economics, which was giving our news away for free.
“We haven’t been cut off from the conversation, because the media works as a huge echo chamber and readers are commenting on our stories in a more engaging way.”