The Times’ Paywall and Newsletter Economics

It is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.

In early July, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation placed its two London-based “quality” dailies, the Times and Sunday Times, behind a paywall, charging £1 for 24 hours access, or £2 a week (after an introductory £1 for the first month.*) At the same time, News Corp also forbad the UK’s Audit Bureau of Circulations from reporting site traffic*, so that no meaningful measure of the paywall’s effect was available.

That situation has now been partially reversed, with News reporting some of its own numbers: they claim 105,000 total transactions for digital content between July and October.* (Several people have wrongly reported this as 105,000 users. The number of users is smaller, as there can be more than one transaction per user.) News Corp notes that about half of those transactions were one-offs, meaning only about 50,000 transactions in those four months were by people with any commitment to the site longer than a single day.

Because that 50K number includes not just web site transactions, but Kindle and iPad sales as well, web subscribers are, at best, in the low tens of thousands. However, we don’t know how small the digital subscriber number is, for two reasons. First, the better the Kindle and iPad numbers are, the worse the web numbers are. Second, News did not report, for example, whether a loyal reader from July to October would count as a single transaction or several consecutive transactions. (If iPad sales are good, and loyal users create multiple transactions, then monthly web subscribers could be under 10,000.)

The other figure News reported is that something like 100,000 print subscribers have requested web access. Combining digital-only and print subscribers, and comparing them with comScore’s pre-paywall estimate of roughly six million unique readers worldwide*, the reduction in total web audience seems to be on the order of 97%. (Note that this reduction can’t be measured by before and after traffic, as the home pages are outside the paywall, so people who refuse to pay still show up as visitors.)

Because the print subscribers outnumber digital-only users, most of the remaining 3% pay nothing for the site. Subscription to the paper is now a better draw for website use than any case News has been able to make for paid access.

Given the paucity of the data, the key question of churn remains unanswerable. After the introductory £1 a month offer, the annualized rate rises from £12 to £104. This will cause additional users to bail out, but we have no way of guessing how many.

As with every aspect of The Times’ paywall, interpretation of these numbers varies widely. There are people arguing that these numbers are good news; Robert Andrews at PaidContent sees hope in the Times now having recurring user revenues.* There are people arguing that they are bad news; Mike Masnick at TechDirt believes those revenues are unlikely to offset new customer acquition costs and the loss of advertising.* What is remarkable though, what seems to need more explaining than News’s strategy itself, is why anyone regards this particular paywall as news at all.

* * *

The “paywall problem” isn’t particularly complex, either in economic or technological terms. General-interest papers struggle to make paywalls work because it’s hard to raise prices in a commodity market. That’s the problem. Everything else is a detail.

The classic description of a commodity market uses milk. If you own the only cow for 50 miles, you can charge usurious rates, because no one can undercut you. If you own only one of a hundred such cows, though, then everyone can undercut you, so you can’t charge such rates. In a competitive environment like that, milk becomes a commodity, something whose price is set by the market as a whole.

Owning a newspaper used to be like owning the only cow, especially for regional papers. Even in urban markets, there was enough segmentation–the business paper, the tabloid, the alternative weekly–and high enough costs to keep competition at bay. No longer.

The internet commodifies the business of newspapers. Any given newspaper competes with a few other newspapers, but any newspaper website compete with all other websites. As Nicholas Carr pointed out during the 2009 pirate kidnapping, Google News found 11,264 different sources for the story, all equally accessible.* The web puts newspapers in competition with radio and TV stations, magazines, and new entrants, both professional and amateur. It is the war of each against all.

None of this is new. The potential disruptive effects of the internet on newspapers have been observable since ClariNet in 1989.* Nor has the business case for paywalls changed. The advantage of paywalls is that they raise revenue from users. The disadvantages are that they reduce readership, increase customer acquistion and retention costs, and eliminate ad revenue from user-forwarded content. In most cases, the disadvantages have outweighed the advantages.

So what’s different about News paywall? Nothing. It’s no different from other pay-for-access plans, whether the NY Times’ TimesSelect* or the Harligen Texas Valley Morning Star.* News Corp has produced no innovation in content, delivery, or payment, and the idea of 90%+ loss of audience was already a rule of thumb over a decade ago. Yet something clearly feels different.

Over the last fifteen years, many newspaper people have assumed continuity with the analog business model, which is to say they assumed that readers could eventually be persuaded or forced pay for digital editions. This in turn suggested that the failure of any given paywall was no evidence of anything other than the need to try again.

What is new about the Times’ paywall–what may in fact make it a watershed–isn’t strategy or implementation. What’s new is that it has launched as people in the news business are re-thinking assumed continuity. It’s new because the people paying attention to it are now willing to regard the results as evidence of something. To the newspaper world, TimesSelect looked like an experiment. The Times and Sunday Times look like a referendum on the future.

* * *

One way to escape a commodity market is to offer something that isn’t a commodity. This has been the preferred advice of people committed to the re-invention of newspapers. It is a truism bordering on drinking game material that anyone advising newspapers will at some point say “All you need to do is offer a product so relevant and valuable the consumer is willing to pay for it!”

This advice is well-meaning. It’s just not much help. The suggestion that newspapers should, in the future, create a digital product users are willing to pay for is merely a restatement of the problem, by way of admission that the current product does not pass that test.

Most of the historical hope for paywalls assumed that through some combination of reader desire and supplier persuasiveness, the current form of the newspaper could survive the digital transition without significant alteration.

Payalls, as actually implemented, have not accomplished this. They don’t expand revenue from the existing audience, they contract the audience to that subset willing to pay. Paywalls do indeed help newspapers escape commodification, but only by ejecting the readers who think of the product as a commodity. This is, invariably, most of them.

* * *

You can see this contraction at the Times and Sunday Times in the reversal of digital to print readers. Before the paywall, the two sites had roughly six times more readers than there were print sales of the paper edition. (6M web vs. 1M print for the Sunday Times* .) Post-paywall, the web audience is less than a sixth of print sales (down to <150K vs. 1M). The paying web audience is less a twentieth of print sales (<50K vs. 1M), and possibly much less.

One way to think of this transition is that online, the Times has stopped being a newspaper, in the sense of a generally available and omnibus account of the news of the day, broadly read in the community. Instead, it is becoming a newsletter, an outlet supported by, and speaking to, a specific and relatively coherent and compact audience. (In this case, the Times is becoming the online newsletter of the Tories, the UK’s conservative political party, read much less widely than its paper counterpart.)

Murdoch and News Corp, committed as they have been to extracting revenues from the paywall, still cannot execute in a way that does not change the nature of the organizations behind the wall. Rather than simply shifting relative subsidy from advertisers to users for an existing product, they are instead re-engineering the Times around the newsletter model, because the paywall creates newsletter economics.

As of July, non-subscribers can no longer read Times stories forwarded by colleagues or friends, nor can they read stories linked to from Facebook or Twitter. As a result, links to Times stories now rarely circulate in those media. If you are going to produce news that can’t be shared outside a particular community, you will want to recruit and retain a community that doesn’t care whether any given piece of news spreads, which means tightly interconnected readerships become the ideal ones. However, tight interconnectedness correlates inversely with audience size, making for a stark choice, rather than offering a way of preserving the status quo.

This re-engineering suggests that paywalls don’t and can’t rescue current organizational forms. They offer instead yet another transformed alternative to it. Even if paywall economics can eventually be made to work with a dramatically reduced audience, this particular referendum on the future (read: the present) of newspapers is likely to mean the end of the belief that there is any non-disruptive way to remain a going concern.

I’ve bundled some replies to various questions in the comments from November 9th here and from November 10th here.

Also, nota bene: One of the problems with the various “Hey you guys, I just had a great idea for saving newpapers!” micropayment comments showing up in my moderation queue is that the proposers often exhibit no understanding that micropayments have a 20-year history of failure.

I will not post comments suggesting that micropayments will save the news industry unless those comment refer to at least some of the theoretical or practical literature on previous attempts to make them work for the news business. Start here: Why Small Payments Won’t Save Publishers

105 Responses to “The Times’ Paywall and Newsletter Economics”

  1. nanoamp Says:


    The Times site does carry ads behind the paywall. There’s also some sponsored editorial. Typically, the ads are fairly unobtrusive single MPUs at the moment. I suspect it’s lack of paying advertisers, rather than them recognising that I’m not going to buy a Merc, but the ones I see are mostly internal ads for Times products/features. Pleasantly surprised that they’re not trying to flog Sky to me most of the time… yet.

  2. Kagem Tibaijuka Says:

    *Came here from the Guardian who linked to you.

    I respectfully disagree with this whole analysis. The underlying issue I have with your perspective is it seems like an emotional response to a paywall rather than looking at this from a ‘future of the media business’ perspective.

    Anyone who wants to work in media and ensure it is viable wants a paywall to work I would think. In many ways, paywalls would encourage less monopolisation of media because anyone can be their own publisher and make their own content and charge for it.

    And newsletters are extremely profitable, even if the Times seems like it has become a newsletter, if it is one that makes money and keeps its paying subscribers happy, it is executing on its original aim.

    The fact is riding on advertising coat tails is just not viable and online advertising is not going to get any sexier or clever. Getting people to pay for a product someone has produced seems fair enough – that is what clothes shops do every day, and I don’t assume it should be any different for other business, of which media and journalism are part of.

  3. David Sanger Says:

    Clay :: what then dop you think of the proposition of iPad based subscriptions for news, supplemented by parallel, linkable, sharable web versions ?

    The customer would then be paying for a more pleasant and convenient interface.

  4. Wall between The Times and the World « Vehkoo Says:

    […] but rather in tens of thousands. I would recommend two commentators who have analysed the numbers: Clay Shirky, one of the most astute media writers of our time, and the Guardian’s Dan […]

  5. Nando Says:

    If the Times was the only cow on some kind of news or on reputation, they would have a chance. They may be good at some level, but they don’t have anything really different or outstanding (in other words, they are good in commodities), so I believe they don’t have a chance. 3% is a irrelevant number — and they are trying to attract people (if they weren’t, the payers would be 1%? less than that?). They will keep trying, offering more of I-don’t-know-what, but apart from that tiny price (that doesn’t make a business model anywhere in the world), they won’t make it.

    I believe re-invention is the answer.

  6. BC Says:

    Actually, the Times was getting far more than 6 million uniques a month. According to the old ABCe figures it was 20+ million –

  7. Oracle Guy Says:

    RE: micropayments

    Please, the “micropayments” idea has to DIE. If micropayments ever succeed, I guarantee that before long you’ll pay for every click, every link, every page you look at, and maybe even every image you see on a page. (What’s to stop each image from requiring a micropayment all its own?)

    Is that the kind of web you want? Really?

    Let’s even pretend that the micropayments start out really, really small. What’s the chance that they won’t steadily increase again and again over time? How long before a couple of hours of browsing costs you significant money?

    Seriously, the “micropayments” concept must be put to a fiery death before it becomes reality.

  8. iGav Says:

    I think it’s poetic justice that Murdoch’s evil News Corp should find the challenge of new technology too much. Murdoch destroyed fleet Street back in the time of Fortress Wapping when he forced the newspaper industry to modernise with new print technology, and then ruthlessly cut prices to grab as big a share of the market as he could.

    The paywall he has now erected is the classic strategy of a monopolist like him – he forgets he made his money by undercutting his rivals but now, he cannot compete against free.

    My hope is that the paywall will be an emabrrassing defeat for him and the beginning of teh end for his media empire.

  9. The Collaborative Model: an alternative to paywalls | It's all integrated Says:

    […] to pay in a monetary sense (which, based on recent reports about The Times, it seems they won’t; Clay Shirky has an excellent analysis here on The Times and the commodification of online news medi…) then they will have to accept that they’ll have to pay in a different way. In this instance, […]

  10. Credit where it’s due | Malcolm Redfellow’s Home Service Says:

    […] first was ripped from the weblog of Clay Shirky and discusses the implications of the pay-wall at Times Newspapers. Fawkes focused on just one […]

  11. clay Says:

    Paul, yes, you are right and I was recently wrong about being wrong, and now, thanks to you, I am again right.

    Which is to say I fixed the relevant calculation back.

    (Note to self: Never do a next-morning proof-read before coffee…)

  12. Paul T Says:

    Wasn’t the original version of the article correct? The Times (according to its website) charges £2 a week after the introductory offer, not £2 a fortnight.

  13. Tom Chatfield Says:

    All true—and which leaves me wondering whether, News Corp being aware of this, the real future for the Times is bundling: as a kind of value-added sweetner with subscription packages.

    So you pay one sum a month to get your TV/internet/phone/newspaper from News Corp—and suddenly the idea of the paper as a kind of club magazine makes a little more sense. Given that nobody has yet come up with a meaningful way to compete with the open internet for the business of reporting general-interest news, it almost makes sense: give up entirely, and become a one-stop domestic media shop.

  14. Oracle Guy Says:

    One real problem with paywalls is unavoidable the hit that columnists take- if your work is behind a paywall, who is going to see your work?

    You may craft a great column, an insightful political analysis or opinion piece, but you can be guaranteed that almost no one is going to see it. This makes columnists leery of paywalls, and rightfully so.

    What columnist wants to spend their time and energy writing something that will immediately be locked and unavailable to the vast majority of people?

  15. - Blog - Giornalismo d’altri » Blog Archive » Quotidiano o newsletter? Shirky parla del Times, ma il modello newsletter avanza Says:

    […] pezzo pubblicato ieri sul suo blog si intitola The Times’ Paywall and Newsletter Economics e la sua conclusione è proprio che – qualora funzioni – la “barriera a pagamento” del […]

  16. Azeem Says:


    This is great–best most insightful analysis.

    The fundamental challenge seems to be a brutal unwillingness within The Times to even countenance that people wouldn’t pay for the product they currently have. If you start with that (humbling) assumption, you work out what people would pay for.

    And it wouldn’t be discounted tickets to Glyndebourne, it would be content of the non-commodity kind.

  17. Erich Says:

    The success of content is based around its ability to propogate. If you charge for it you intrinsically negate this ability making the content unsucessfull. Its the content paradox

  18. Ed Says:

    Can anyone confirm the Times online is advert free? I assumed that it would still carry ads which would generate a significant revenue because the audience, though smaller, were NOT a horde of overseas freeloaders.

  19. Dave Says:

    I can’t see micropayments working on individual articles in a similar way to the iTunes model, because you’re comparing lasting to passing value. A song has lasting value in that you’ll pay once and listen repeatedly, but you’re only going to read an article once.

    As a reader, the fractions of one cent I might then be willing to micro-pay for a few minutes of reading time on a single article is not worth the time investment needed to decide whether to pay or not.

    That’s just as a reader.

    For that reason, a staggered or graduated subscription model makes more sense, if you’re forced to choose between the two.

    Not sure if you respond to your comments Clay, but I’d be interested to hear how you would measure the success of a paywall. Eg The Times.

    Is it audience (UBs/PIs), engagement (eg session times – or a different measure), revenue, a combination thereof or something completely different?

  20. Gunnar Lium Says:

    The main difference between now and 15 years ago was that back then, pay walls were an act of experimentation, today they are an act of desperation. And acts of desperation are seldom elegantly executed …

  21. The Mad Hatter Says:

    I predicted that the experiment would be a failure, however I hadn’t considered the idea of moving to a newsletter style format. That could make it viable. Maybe.

    But I really don’t think so, because what the Times offers is available elsewhere, unlike the newsletter, which covered a highly specialized field.

  22. phuzz Says:

    I would happily pay money to see Murdoch’s reaction to those numbers. Paying to read the news, not so much though.

  23. clay Says:

    Here is a bundle of replies to various questions in the comments:


    I don’t think the Times paywall was noticiably worse than others–it is always a hassle to get people to give you money–that’s a problem with paywalls, full stop.

    I also think that News did nothing short of brilliant work on the behavioral economics of easing it in, with registration without paying, and an introductory month that cost as little as a single day of access, then doubling the cost and quartering the access time, rather than showing the user an 8-fold increase, and so on.

    I think, in other words, that in execution, News did as good a job on paywalls as most, and a much better job than most introducing them.

    @Seamus, Mike S, and Anthony Veitch,

    I agree with you that the Times is an unusual case in many ways, not least because it is embedded in a much larger and more diverse media empire. See, on this subject, Seamus McCauley’s terrific piece on the use of the Times as part of a larger “confusopoly” media war: “News Corp’s Paywall Is About News Corp, Not The Times”

    However, I disagree that this makes the lessons of the Times paywall less relevant; in fact, the Times has two unusual cushions–a publisher who is willing to forgo some revenues in order to have influence, and a larger media empire for whom having the papers collect CC numbers may make it an atttractive source of up-selling and cross-selling. Papers that don’t have those cushions are likely to suffer more from a switch to paywalls.


    I am qualifying my statements because News are trying to have it both ways, producing some data, but couching it in so many weasel words that they are hard to interpret perfectly. I think News is using these weasel words because they want analysts to misinterpret the data, reporting transactions as if they represented headcount instead of actions. This is eerily like the techniques Linden Labs used in the middle of the decade to trick reporters into over-reporting the population of Second Life:

    When they produce better facts, those of us writing about them will qualify less. The point here is that even the current facts, presumably spun as much as they can, still show a remarkable inversion of print and web audiences.

    And it is that inversion that I base my newspaper->newsletter conclusion on. The print audience is older, more English, and more conservative (upper- and lower-case ‘c’) than the web audience. Now that print subs outnumber digital-only users on the web site, that is a contraction to their base.

    @Jon DiPietro,

    I don’t think micropayments will work for news.

    @Sean O’Neill,

    I believe that both the Guardian and TechCrunch numbers are wrong, because they assume that the 50K number put out by News Corp can be roughly extrapolated to mean “50,000 steady subscribers.” The numbers do not mean that, and they may mean much less than that.

  24. Sean O'Neill Says:

    But which is better? $9 million in revenues or $2.4 million?

    “What did they give up in online advertising revenues? At 41 million estimated pageviews a month, assuming a $5 CPM (cost-per-thousand-impressions), that was only $200,000 a month in online advertising revenues.”

    Compare that to how the Guardian and TechCrunch independently calculated estimated revenue from paywalled subscriptions to be around $9 to $9.6 million annually

    Yes, it’s a smaller audience. But the writers and videographers can get paid, and you cut distribution costs.


  25. Shafqat Says:

    Great post – continuing on the cow metaphor, perhaps some newspaper editors and publishers should think about Godin’s Purple Cow concept when thinking about differentiation. Small step-changes or improvements are not going to turn a commodity into a good with more inelastic demand. Transforming it completely will.

    I think there is a typo and you meant “Newspapers *DON’T* compete with other newspapers, but newspaper websites compete with other websites” ?

  26. Dewi Morgan Says:

    It was once accepted wisdom that print is more popular than digital because you could hold it in your hands and it was tactile and blah blah.

    However, I am not sure this holds nowadays. So, is the web version instead much less popular than the digital one, nowadays, because you get less for your money?

    From the sounds of it, you get, for your £1 for a day, a single day’s access to any article. You want to read that article tomorrow? Pay again. This is different to a newspaper, which is yours to read as long as you are willing to keep the paper – a cheap space-tax.

    With printed stuff, you have bought the right to read that printing as long as you wish. With digital stuff, unless I am interpreting it wrong and you get permanent access to that day’s writings, you are getting less.

  27. Jon DiPietro Says:

    The first time I downloaded a song off of Napster – ahem, I mean, when I saw someone else do that – my immediate reaction was, “Nobody will ever buy a CD again! Why would you pay for the entire cow when all you wanted was a gallon of milk?” Most of my friends at the time didn’t see it, but here we are 10 years later and most music purchases are for $0.99 songs instead of $15 CDs. And the brick and mortar stores are going away.

    It makes me wonder if that’s the only future for newspapers; pay-per-article. Before that happens, we need a decent micro-payment system but I’d personally be willing to pay ten or twenty cents to read an article everyone was buzzing about.

    That wouldn’t constitute a fundamental change to the commodity model you describe, but it does change the experience from a full sit-down meal to a drive-through.

  28. Dennfo Says:

    I like the Times – I like their approach to journalism; I like their coverage. I like the structure of the paper. I buy the physical paper at weekends. I like the website – and I was one of the early subscribers. Initially, there were two great benefits for me personally. Complementary Times+ membership. At the time that I signed up, I managed to get Times+ complementary tickets to two advance showing films = great. But then Times+ stopped using my local cinema and my second month membership went up to £8.00 per month. The bunch of special features – web-chats mainly – although interesting typically happen in the middle of the day when I wasn’t available. I couldn’t support the cost vs. real value any longer. The subscription price isn’t a huge amount of money – but this cow is available everywhere on the net for free – and not seeing any other real differentiation – I cancelled my subscription. It will be interesting in these numbers ongoing to see if I was alone, or if other early adopters drop off.

  29. James Cherkoff Says:

    If a story breaks behind The Times’ paywall and no one is around to read it, does it make a sound?

  30. e_staude Says:

    Good point indeed. Times wants to make money from the Web (read: digital commercial system) at the same time ignoring the Internet (free and open). It makes no sens at all, what we can observe in data. The conclusion is, as you said, escaping the commodity market is in this case by offering something that isn’t commodity. That’s correct logic, thanks 4 sharing your remarks.

  31. Desperate Dan Says:

    “However, we don’t know…..”

    “…….reduction in total web audience seems to be”

    “Given the paucity of the data he key question of churn remains unanswerable.”

    “…………..we have no way of guessing how many……..”

    Given your admitted lack of concrete facts, on what evidence do you base your conclusion that “…the Times is becoming the online newsletter of the Tories”?

  32. Anthony Veitch Says:

    This ‘newsletter’ issue touches on the unpredictable outcome for the Murdochs in terms of political influence. News Corporation’s tabloids are fast disappearing behind the paywall too, but presumably this is unimportant given their print/online ratios.

    It must be assumed that the calculation includes the influence of Sky News (in the UK) and print edition of The Sun. If the business did not own a mass circulation tabloid and control a major free to air news channel, the approach at The Times might be very different.

  33. Mike Power Says:

    Another question is how long journalists and columnists on these papers will continue knowing their audience has been drastically reduced and their work no longer linkable on the web? There are going to be some bruised egos about and I’m sure some of the staff are already looking around for alternative positions.

  34. Miles Galliford Says:

    IMHO Rupert Murdoch is making two big mistakes:

    1) Believing the business model is black or white – free with advertising or paid access.

    If they placed greater importance on the revenue streams that they historically viewed as ancillary, such as sponsorship, advertorials, paid directory listings, branded books, merchandise, stock photos, spin off events and affiliate deals, their businesses could look very different. The Times has a wealthy and web savvy audience who trust their brand. They would be willing to buy everything from financial services to holidays on the basis of Times recommendations. They could so easily have been the company that created the Groupon service or a version of the, if they simply explored the ways of monetizing a loyal audience. This leads onto the second point.

    2) Believing the content is where the value lies.

    Murdoch repeatedly tells anyone who will listen that the content his journalists create is valuable and anyone who wants to read it should pay for the privilege. If he could simply shift his thinking to understand the content is just the means of creating an audience and its the audience where the value lies.

    Publishers are in the audience building and monetisation business, not the content business. This shift in thinking with change their fortunes (IMHO)

  35. Quote of the Day - Guy Fawkes' blog Says:

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  36. Gordon Rae Says:

    I’m a subscriber to the print edition, so I get the paywalled website bundled. The user interface is terrible. I think I’ve read two articles online in the past month, and I got halfway through Caitlin Moran’s interview with Keith Richards, then went downstairs, got the print edition in from the porch, and read the second half on paper.

    I like your point about contracting the audience. Unlike Spotify, for example, The Times never gives me the feeling that by paying, I’m upgrading to a higher quality product than I can get for free.

  37. Magnus Says:

    Just throttle the bandwidth for regular users and create a premium experience that is snappier and comes with a PDF for mobile browsing.

  38. Shirky: Times paywall is pretty much like all the other paywalls | Geek News and Musings Says:

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  39. Mike S Says:

    I suspect that there are other ideas in play here. As I posted on Emily Bell’s blog, Murdoch is looking for a way to get people to pay for serious news, analysis and opinion. And it could work for the Times, especially if the deal to buy BSkyB goes through. Two factors could support this.

    First, while many newspapers talk of being able to offer cross-platform advertising, NewsInt and BSkyB would really be able to do it. With a readership (not circulation) approaching a million in a demographic highly desired by advertisers, a qualified online readership will be key. And you wont get one if you give your content away.

    Second, the demographic of Times readers tells us that they will be early adopters of devices such as the iPad which make non-paper reading of content much easier than previously. I reckon that a big chunk (if not all) of that £80m loss that NewsInt suffrered last year could be recouped by shifting readers away from paper to digital formats. With BSkyB’s delivery capabilities (a subscriptions service and broadband) and it’s 10m customers (of whom around a third are broadband customers) it would be reasonably straightforward to add the Times to a lot of people’s monthly bills…

    Jus a thought.

  40. The Times’ Paywall and Newsletter Economics « Clay Shirky | musings of the magister Says:

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  41. Ian Says:

    Always the best analysis. Thanks again for breaking it down for me.

  42. Seamus McCauley Says:


    This is the best summary of the economics of newspaper paywalls I’ve read. However, IMO the Times is an anomaly amongst newspapers and the creation of a paywall around it unlikely to reveal any wider lesson for other newspapers since the owners, News Corp, are likely intending to add it to their extensive UK content bundle via their growing stake in content/ISP/TV/telephony business BskyB.

  43. Vaspers aka Steven E Streight Says:

    Why can’t newspapers offer their standard content for free, but have a paid subscription for niche information, or perhaps create special exclusive products derived from their expertise and sell that to their audience?

    Why do newspapers, which rarely link to external sources, think they only have newspaper product to sell? Why can’t they be like Time Life and it’s many offerings in books and music CDs and DVDs?

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  47. Paulestorey Says:

    The Sunday/Times paywall was seemingly predicated on the notion of the unassailability of a brand without regconition of the medium/brand mix. This belief that the Times on line was essentially the same brand as the broadsheet was a fundamental error of assumption. Basing any economic modelling on that assumption was bound to fail to deliver any economic return that matched projections. Not for the first time have the Murdoch’s demonstrated an unwillingness to listen to alternate points of view, assuming that there was some degree of net savvieness somewhere in the organisation.
    Beyond the technical issues raised by Bart, does anyone seriously believe that material behind the paywall won’t leak onto “free” sites, well anyone other than Murdoch.
    As has been demonstrated other media Murdoch is willing to prosecute to protect rather than innovate to profit. Murdoch is of course seemingly happy to run a “quality” braodsheet at a loss (viz The Australian) and for a while some residual brand loyalty from the not so web savvy may grab a few subscribers but I will run a book on how long before this paywall crumbles either partially, by giving glimpses of articles, or fully by accepting the need for mass circulation to generate advertising.
    This model will not last, Murdoch can read a balance sheet and so can his shareholders.

  48. The Times’ Paywall and Newsletter Economics « Clay Shirky : Popular Links : eConsultant Says:

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  49. Rob Adler Says:

    The problem the newspapers have is that the web has turned their market from one of scarcity of oversupply. People often feel overwhelmed by the information stream. So they may well be relieved when one of their sources drop. So media considering a pay wall should let their competitors be the pioneers.

  50. Bart Says:

    But what about the Times’s terrible implementation of their paywall? I can’t take their numbers very seriously because I don’t think they would have done as poorly (though probably still not great) if they had a smarter technical approach.

    The only thing you ever see on their new site is the front page, clicking an article sets off a bad sequence of page refreshes and flickers that end up with a lightbox back on the homepage, and other links on the page (main section categories) also partially load something until that lightbox shows up again.

    It’s very aggressive and doesn’t give you the satisfaction you get of browsing an online store like iTunes where you can go through sections, sample content and then decide to put down a little bit of money at a time. I’m not saying this would have saved them or any other news organization, but what they did wasn’t a very well thought-out attempt at solving the problem.

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