Faced with shrinking print readership and anemic advertising revenue, The New York Times Company in March of 2011 launched its second attempt at controversial digital subscriptions for its online content with mixed results, say industry experts.
The Times’ digital package provides 20 free articles a month to non-subscribers and unlimited access to online content for print and online-only users paying monthly fees. While The New York Times Company had initially envisioned that the majority of users would never hit the article cap, the number of unique visitors to the site dropped between 5 to 15 percent in the 12 days following the paywall’s implementation, according to Matthew Ingram of Gigaom.com. This is especially interesting considering that the Times’ had estimated that roughly 15 percent of readers would be “heavy users” who accessed enough articles in a month to hit the cap. Further, the number of articles each user on the site was reading dropped between 11 and 30 percent, Ingram said. Fewer people were visiting the Times’ website and reading less while they were there in the aftermath of the paywall’s implementation.
Positive signs have developed. Jeremy Peters of the Times’ writes that by the end of April the website had accrued over 100,000 new digital subscribers and seen a slight increase in print due to the free digital access. At that rate the company could potentially meet its goal of 500,000 new subscribers by the end of 2011. Also critical is the up to 30 percent premium the Times could charge for digital advertising behind its new paywall, said Felix Salmon of Wired magazine. Being able to bill its digital subscribers as “engaged” audiences to advertisers could potentially result in hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue.
While the Times’ paywall is still in its infancy, data reveals mixed results for the program’s immediate fiscal impacts. However, with rival publications such as The Wall Street Journal and Financial Times already well behind their own digital walls, the Times’ will be sticking around.