Figures on readership behind the Times and Sunday Times digital paywalls have finally been released. 105,000 people have made some digital purchase, and about half of these are monthly subscribers to one of the digital editions: the websites or the Times iPad app or Kindle edition. "Many of the rest" said the press release "are either single copy or pay-as-you-go customers."
100,000 more print subscribers have activated their digital accounts either to the websites and/or iPad apps and the press release therefore concludes that the total paid digital audience is "close to 200,000." James Murdoch, News Corp's chairman and CEO for Europe and Asia said that this means that the "total paid circulation of The Times has grown."
The two papers went behind an online paywall in July, and introduced a subscription-based iPad app. Online access costs £1 a day or £2 a week, and the iPad app costs £9.99 a month. It is a straightforward, complete paywall, compared to metered models which are more flexible.
The digital subscribers engage frequently with the products, particularly with the app, the release said. "Each of our digital subscribers is more engaged and more valuable to us than very many unique users of the previous model," said Rebekah Brooks, CEO of News International, in the press release. She said the company was "very pleased" by the numbers, and Murdoch said he was "excited by the progress that we have made."
The only details given about the subscribers was that "many" live in the UK and that they are "relatively affluent."
The Guardian reported that Times editor James Harding said on Radio 4's Today programme that the paper had not been cut out of the national news conversation, but that "our stories get picked up in the echo chamber of the media" and that "readers comment on our stories." The risk, in a world where many people read and interact with news from multiple different sources on a daily basis and where they share these stories with friends and contacts, is that a publication behind a paywall will be cut out of this dialogue and subsequently become less relevant.
As the numbers are spread over several months it is difficult to make straightforward comparison concerning visitor numbers. If about half of the 105,000 are monthly subscribers, that means that they are paying either about £8.30 for the website or £9.99 for the iPad app (it seems that access to both is available, however one chooses to sign up.) This would mean that the Times is earning somewhere between £435,000 and £524,000 direct from the consumer its digital offerings: so about £6 million a year. A Sunday Times iPad app will be launched soon, which hopes to attract significantly more subscribers.
The papers can also boast to advertisers of 150,000 digital subscribers who are prepared to pay for Times journalism.
Media commentators were united in frustration at the lack of a more thorough breakdown of the numbers, but not about what they mean. Roy Greenslade believes that the paywall experiment "has, as expected, not created a sufficiently lucrative business model." Malcolm Coles, on the other hand, sees the numbers as "actually quite good." PaidContent's Robert Andrews, stressing that it's still early days, said that "the small subscriptions base at least offers hope of recurring customer income." The 52,500 monthly subscribers figure could "signal a news business that has a future," said Dominic Ponsford.
It will be interesting to see how these figures develop over time, and how they compare to those of the News of the World, News International's tabloid which has more recently gone behind a paywall.