Following reports over the weekend that the Times had lost 66% of its online traffic since introducing compulsory registration and a paywall in recent weeks, the Guardian has now reported that the Times lost almost 90% of its online readership compared to February. This is the figure that was previously predicted by Sunday Times editor John Witherow, and is, according to the Guardian, "the standard experience when a site moves to a paid-access model instead of free access."
The Guardian's calculations are based on data from Experian Hitwise (as was the 66% figure) that shows how many people have attempted to access the site and how many people register to reach the home page. Taking into account figures provided by Dan Sabbagh, Beehive City blogger and former Times media correspondent, the Guardian concludes that the total number of daily visitors to the Times' site has fallen by about 84% since May.
Sabbagh has "picked up" some information about the Times' sign-up figures: that 150,000 people registered for the Times and Sunday Times websites during the free registration period, and that 15,000 actually agreed to pay. "Official sources" told him that the registration figure was actually higher, but did not challenge the paying figure, or the fact that 12,500 people were paying for the Times' separate iPad application.
This latter figure is impressive, given the fact that the iPad is a niche device. Sabbagh comments that it "makes you think that the future of newspapers starts to look a bit like the music industry. A declining print business; a modestly growing Apple dominated digital-paid for business -- and an internet free-for-all in which nobody pays for anything that erodes the previous two."
Estimating the value of these new digital subscribers at £7-10 each, Sabbagh concludes that they are worth far less than print subscribers, which the Times and Sunday Times have steadily been losing. What is important in this case though, is whether the revenue brought in from the paying readers exceeds the site's advertising revenue before implementing registration - and that is unclear.