NYTCo: 15 Percent Of NYTimes.com Are ‘Heavy’ Readers – But Will They Pay?

NYTCo (NYSE: NYT) executives are offering a few more clues about the company’s plans for the metered paywall scheduled for early next year. While CEO Janet Robinson, speaking with other NYTCo execs in a session at the UBS Media conference, said she wouldn’t provide details, she did give a general sense of how the rollout is shaping up. Right now, roughly 15 percent of the monthly visitors to the NYTimes.com access 20-plus pages on the site, said Martin Nisenholtz, chief of digital operations, which makes them heavy users — and as Robinson said, more apt to be converted to paying subscribers.

Robinson reiterated the pledge that visitors who come to the NYTimes.com through social-media sites would not be counted by the meter. That’s designed to preserve its audience reach and the ad dollars that follow it. As for those who find articles on the site through search, it wasn’t clear if that would be limited by the paywall, but that is considered likely.

She also said that access to the NYT’s content would be available in “cross-platform packages” in order to maintain a “seamless brand experience.” Still, despite mentioning its revamped iPad app — which is completely free until the meter is turned on — Robinson didn’t say whether one price would cover Kindle subscriptions as well as access via mobile apps. Speaking of its mobile apps, the NYT News app for the iPhone has been downloaded 5 million times since its launch two years ago.

So with 15 percent of its website users seemingly devoted to the NYTimes.com — and most likely, its features on mobile devices — how much would that translate if all of them were “converted” into paying users?

In his Poynter column, Rick Edmonds does a little math. With 40 million monthly unique visitors, that means there is a pool of 6 million “heavy users” that are marked as potential paying subs. About 877,000 pay for the daily print product, making the NYTimes.com’s audience about 7 times larger. Looking only at the Sunday circ, which numbers about 1.4 million, the number of web readers is still about 4 times as large. If just 5 percent of that pool of heavy users were to accept the paywall terms, that would mean about 300,000 readers. And if the NYTCo were to charge roughly the same amount as the $19.99 monthly Kindle subscription, that would add up to $6 million in revenue each month. (The webcast of the conference session can be heard here.)