Is The Times Paywall Ready to Tumble?

November 2nd, 2010 by Rob Brown

News International took a bullish line today with the announcement of early results for The Times and Sunday Times paywall experiment.  Times editor James Harding said the papers were “hugely encouraged” by paying subscribers that have hit 105,000 after four months.

The BBC’s Rory Cellan Jones estimated that the annual revenue from this subscription base  with “very rough back-of-the envelope calculations” would be around £7m.  I think that might be optimistic given that News International haven’t indicated churn rates or how many of that 105,000 are currently in the introductory £1 for thirty day trial period.  Given that we’re just four months in it might be a quarter.

Where this really doesn’t add up is when you look at ad revenue.  The Guardian is pulling in £40 million a year in online revenues more than double that of the Times and bear in mind that doesn’t account for the fact we are not looking at a full year position for The Times.  It looks like online ads at the Guardian represent serious value in comparison.  From their pre-paywall high point the audience for the TimesOnline has dropped almost 90% and the figures from Alexa.com (below) will include anyone stopping by to look at the free to view front page.

What is most worrying of all for the 225 year old news title is that reach is still falling, 7% in the last month, at a time when most free on line national newspapers in the UK are seeing significant growth.   If there is a new financial model for national daily news titles, and there is no guarantee that there will be, you wouldn’t expect an old-style news baron to come up with the magic formula.  On the strength of the figures released today The Times paywall very definitely isn’t it.

About Rob Brown

Rob Brown has worked in PR for over 20 years and for over fifteen years held senior PR positions within three major global advertising networks; Euro RSCG, McCann and TBWA. He launched his own business ‘Rule 5’ in MediaCityUK, Manchester in November 2012. Rob is the author of ‘Public Relations and the Social Web’ (2009), blogs for The Huffington Post and is joint editor of 'Share This Too' (2013).

5 Responses to “Is The Times Paywall Ready to Tumble?”


  1. London Times loses “less than” 90 percent of readers online | PrintMediaCentr.com Says:

    […] Is The Times Paywall Ready to Tumble? (pr-media-blog.co.uk) […]


  2. malcolm coles Says:

    That Alexa graph is for timesonline.co.uk – the old legacy site, the pages of which are still findable via Google.

    You cannot measure thetimes.co.uk separately from timesonline.co.uk separately via Alexa, so the data is, sadly, completely meaningless. (I’m not sure thetimes.co.uk is even counted in the data – which means all that graph measures is that fewer people visit the old site, which is no surprise).


  3. Mike Haydon Says:

    Yeah I said from the start that it was a suicidal experiment. Thanks for the numbers: it really shows how badly it’s failed! It’s unforgivable for such a venerable news service to lose traction at a time when its competitors are wiping the floor with them. Murdoch should cut his losses while there’s still hope of recovery.


  4. Rob Brown Says:

    Malcolm – your clarification is useful and valid. The most accurate estimates suggest that traffic has fallen by 87%. I’m not sure why you think Alexa isn’t looking for data from thetimes.co.uk, but you might be right. The volumes suggest to me that they are aggregating data for the domains, but I’m no expert. If you look at Quantcast, which is anecdotal because its US data it does suggest strongly that traffic is falling to thetimes.co.uk.


  5. malcolm coles Says:

    Rob – it’s because Alexa hasn’t woken up to what’s happened yet.

    If you do an Alexa site info search for thetimes.co.uk – http://www.alexa.com/search?q=thetimes.co.uk&r=site_siteinfo&p=bigtop – then it says “Site Information for timesonline.co.uk”. And if you click that, you get the graph you have above – with timesonline.co.uk at the top left.

    I can’t find a way to get Alexa to show thetimes.co.uk data. I suspect it’s because of the redirect that used to be in place.

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