The latest numbers on The Times/ Sunday Times paywall experiment show a modest step in the right direction for Rupert Murdoch – interesting – but they can hardly be expected to set the newspaper industry on fire.
Around the world publishers are watching to see whether the 80-year-old Murdoch has got it right with his decision to put the digital versions of his two great newspapers behind paywalls.
This week’s press release from News International was the usual well-crafted version of reality, putting the best possible shine on the numbers.
Yet the Murdoch paywall is not quite the total disaster that some industry consultants such as Jim Chisholm predicted.
There has been some progress since the first numbers were released at the end of October.
By the end of February The Times and Sunday Times had 79,000 monthly digital subscribers, up from just under 50,000 in October.
The numbers do however include subscriptions to the digital sites as well as The Times iPad and the Kindle edition.
NI can grandly clam a 60 per cent rise in subscribers to the new digital products “fuelling a three-per cent increase year-on-year in the paid readership of The Times.”
Throw in subscribers to print editions who get free access to the digital site and those buying one day digital passes and you get to a total of 228,000 able to get the digital versions of the paper in some form.
We are probably talking annual digital revenues of around £10 million a year, not all that dissimilar to the digital advertising revenue of the Daily Mail.
The Mail however is turning its 50 million odd free digital hits into a growing direct mail business aimed at the pre-occupations of its vast older-than average readership such as gardening goods and cruises.
The Mail has also produced some counter-intuitive research that found that Mail readers who used the Mail website bought twice as many copies of the paper as Mail readers who used other websites.
Rather than cannibalising circulation the Mail’s freely available website appears to be underpinning print circulation.
The Times may boast of its 79,000 monthly subscribers but it is forgoing digital advertising revenue and the vast presence it could otherwise have on the web.
If the Daily Mail research is correct The Times print circulation, now at 445,962 down more than 10 per cent year-on-year, could continue to drift downwards.
To compensate it will have to attract a lot more than 79,000 digital subscribers.