What The Times Paywall Figures Tell Us About News Corps Paid Content War

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After going behind the paywall in July - and much speculation and conjecture - the first results are in. News International announced on Tuesday morning it has sold more than 105,000 digital Times and Sunday Times products of some kind.

This figures includes those that have TheTimes.co.uk subs as well as iPad and/or Kindle subs. Some 100,000 print newspaper subscribers have also taken advantage of their digital access to TheTimes.co.uk. (As Malcolm Coles points out, sales does not equal subscribers)

Check out all the best coverage on The Times from around the web at our topic page.

News International's press release claims that all this - give or take "some duplication" in the figures - means it has close 200,000 paying digital customers.

I'm not sure of the logic of this double-counting - how many actual people have handed over their card details, is surely the only metric that matters here, and it seems to me that NI isn't reporting them to take advantage of a higher-sounding bundled figure. Much of this includes one-off day pass payments and people like me that activated a Ç_¶œ1 30-day trial.

But, still, the take-home is this: consumers are taking to the The Times and Sunday Times' digital products and this is very encouraging progress for Rebekah Brooks and the Murdochs.

These stats reinforce three important things:

Success is proving the model works


Businesses like The Times are starting again, with a fresh page, on a new(ish) economic model for news and entertainment. There is no benchmark for success with a paid content model - these figures are good considering that the vast majority of readers were not even aware of the concept of paying for digital news six months ago.

I once asked a senior exec at The Times what he'd think if only five percent of his monthly 30 million plus 20.4 million (according to ABCe) Times Online readership would pay online, as consumers told paidContent:UK in a much-quoted research paper. His answer? "We'd be delighted".

The Times and Sunday Times lost Ç_¶œ87.7 million in 12 months to July 2009, up from Ç_¶œ50.2m in the previous 12 months. As Times editor James Harding has told staff: "Doing nothing is not an option."

This is still about preserving printed newspapers...


Rupert Murdoch loves newspapers. This entire exercise has multiple objectives, some of them business-related and some of them business/political, but I stand by my view that chief among them is to secure the future of The Times and other papers and content-gathering vehicles. The Times is in every sense an online newspaper: it looks, reads and almost feels like the dead tree version.

For Rupert it's not so much about changing the newspaper business model, rather than sell it in different ways and prove to everyone how good it is.

... And making money across the world by selling lots of media products


Don't forget the big picture here: Murdoch and his son James passionately believe that what their papers create is good quality and that Google was effectively getting rich off the back of their efforts. Just look at James Murdoch's quote in the release, which is another extension of News Corp's group-wide "quality content" manifesto:

"...This reinforces our belief that our journalism is valuable and that customers will respond to the investment, innovation and quality that our the hallmarks of our titles."

Which means: aggregators have no quality content, they essentially steal it. It's worth pointing out that Project Alesia, News Corp's aborted "digital newssstand" concept, was named after a classical siege, as Kara at AllThingsD points out. This really is war, and it's being waged on a global scale.

Much, much more insight, case studies and practical advice is in our intelligence report on paywalls, which is available here.

Patrick Smith is editor and chief analyst of TheMediaBriefing

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