Mixed response from PR industry on paywall figures for The Times

PR firms have given a mixed response to figures released showing how many people are using the new paywall at The Times.

Mixed response: The Times paywall
Mixed response: The Times paywall

Publishers of the Times and Sunday Times have revealed for the first time that 105,000 customers have so far paid to go behind the papers' paywall.

A further 100,000 people had a joint subscription to read the newspapers digitally and in print, they added.

This compares to 3 million users on the site a month before the paywall went up.

The figures have been eagerly awaited by publishers and advertisers since the two papers went behind an online paywall four months ago.

Mark Pack, head of digital at MHP Communications said: ‘In order to make full sense of these figures we need to know how they break down between people making a one-off payment for 24-hour access, people buying more than one period of 24-hour access and people who have purchased permanent access. The risk is that people look at the headline figure and assume it means more readership and more revenue than is almost certainly the case. However, these figures look more promising for the paywall’s early days than many people predicted.’

Times executives said they expected to lose 90% of the papers' online readers when they started charging £2 a week, or £9.99 for a four-week iPad subscription.

The publishers now say the total paid audience so far is close to 200,000, allowing for duplications in subscriptions.

Andrew Bloch of Frank PR said: ‘The Times has lost a significant number of web users but there is a strong argument which suggests the people who are subscribing to it are paying much more attention to the stories.’

Around 50,000 are paying a monthly subscription, either for the website editions or to read the papers on an iPad or Kindle.

The figures include subscribers to the print version of the papers who receive an online subscription as a result.

Jonathon Hargreaves, head of technology at Edelman said: ‘Far from becoming a deterrent, the paywall site should simply make PROs consider how better to pitch to the Times to create a compelling, multimedia story in place of the simple, traditional text only manner.

‘Making content premium by going behind a paywall means more scope to involve video, imagery and rich content, and create a stronger resultant piece of coverage. We have already witnessed this ourselves with a piece around a client’s work with Bletchley Park’s archives, which was a huge success; success augmented by being able to develop the story visually and through video.’

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