Is The Times paywall a viable business model?

Comment and opinion have intensified in the past few days that The Times paywall isn’t working. And according to The Guardian, the paper has seen a 90 percent fall in its online readership since the paywall went up three weeks ago.

Hitwise has a different view, backed up by its analysis of what’s actually happening with The Times online according to its latest research.

[…] In the weeks before the paywall went up www.thetimes.co.uk had an average market share of 4.29% in the News and Media – Print category. By the week ending 10 July 2010, The Times’ market share online had dropped to 1.43%, just 33% of where it had been five weeks previously.

The latest data for the week ending 17 July 2010 shows that The Times’ market share has dropped off further still to 1.37% of the News and Media – Print category. The rate of decline is slowing however and the data suggests visits to The Times’ website are stabilising.

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[…] The Times has retained a third of their online visits, and visitors are still spending an average of around three minutes per visit on the website, indicating that they are happy to pay for the content and not disappearing to alternative sites for news.

An interesting conclusion, certainly different to that of The Guardian and others.

It may well be that The Times will end up with a niche audience of people who most definitely want the content on The Times website and are willing to pay for that, along with all the other things you get from becoming a paid subscriber (it’s more than just website content). As I’ve said before, if a situation arises where sufficient numbers of people are willing to pay for your content, then you may have a viable business model.

times30days But is that what’s happening? Or is it that people still haven’t made up their minds about The Times online? The paper is still running a promotion where you can get 30 days access to everything behind the paywall for just £1. What will happen when that promo ends? Will sufficient numbers of people convert to the far more expensive standard subscription of £2 a week?

I took part in the free trial before the paywall started. I did not become a paying subscriber after that, not even 30 days for as pound. For me, it’s simply that The Times doesn’t offer anything that I find compelling enough to pay for. I contrast that with the Financial Times and The Economist – two long-established pay-for-content models that I’ve been a paying subscriber to for some years. Both offer content that I do find compelling and, thus, am willing to pay for.

Maybe that’s the real question – is what The Times offers compelling enough that you’d be willing to pay for it?

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