Regwall cuts The Times's online readership in half

Rupert Murdoch's Times newspaper has instituted a registration wall as a preliminary step toward a full-blown paywall. Readership of the online edition immediately dropped by 50%.
But, according to Hitwise's numbers, simply adding the registration barrier has cut traffic to the site almost in half. Prior to the change, The Times was seeing somewhere in the neighborhood of four to five percent of the traffic going to the print news media category; after, it was hovering around two percent.

Hitwise also tracked where users were going once they hit the registration page. About a third stay on one of The Times' properties, but many head straight to another news site (The Telegraph and The Guardian are big winners here), or simply to Google.

UK paper requires free Web accounts; traffic plunges


  1. I’d like to be the first to say that NONE OF US ON THE INTERNET saw this coming IN A MILLION YEARS. EVAR. Seriously. I am shocked, I say, shocked.

    Your move, Murdoch.

    1. Is this the Noah Django that lived in ktown in the 90s? If so, I’ve been looking for you everywhere!!! Please get in touch.

    1. I’d keep the schadenfreude on hold for now. Non-paying registered users are much, much more valuable than unregistered ones because the registration data can be used to target ads much more effectively. It’ll take a much bigger drop than 50% to offset that added value.

  2. I guess it depends on what is more lucrative: a million pairs of eyeballs and the occasional $0.03 click on an advertisement, or 10,000 paid subscribers.

  3. So the real news here is that The Times is getting 50% of the people who used to read the site for free to now pay for it? Doesn’t sound too bad to me.

    1. No. It doesn’t mean that 50% of people refuse to pay. It means that 50% of people refuse to spend 30 seconds on *free* registration and login.
      We can only guess how many of the remaining 50% will be willing to pay when the time comes to pay for access

  4. Isn’t the solution just to create a general sign-in account published so that everyone can use it? That’s always what I saw before. I suppose the average net user isn’t going to bother with that, though.

    /Funny how I had to log in to comment….

    1. “Isn’t the solution just to create a general sign-in account published so that everyone can use it?”

      You just described

    2. Back in the day, the universal login used to be cypherpunks/cypherpunks.

      CAPTCHA: helpless redhead

  5. @anon#6

    No. Read the story. This includes people registered for free on the pre-pay wall trial.

    Having said that, I still think 50% is surprisingly good.

  6. Re #6: 50% of the site’s readers aren’t paying for it, they have however given News Corp their email address.

    Readership will tank further when the Times puts up a paywall and asks readers to pony up £2 a week. Which may actually be fine with Murdoch — at least he’s got paying readers. But it provides a great opportunity for other British papers (both left- and right-oriented) to take readership away from the Times — as it is the Times is a vapid rag anyway. We’ll see how many readers really can’t live without it.

  7. The Times is not a vapid rag. However much I despise Murdoch it has become a seriously good newspaper in the last two to three years – far better than the Guardian, which sinks further every week with increasing ‘lifestyle’ and celebrity articles dominating the front page.

    I’ve always thought that it must be possible to have system where to read an article you pay a few pennies/cents. Usually I have time to read 3-4 articles from each online paper I read. I’d be happy to pay 5p per article, but less happy to pay two pounds a week when there are times when I am on business and don’t have time or access to the site. Surely more than 10% of the existing readership would be happy to pay a token sum each time. A million readers paying 5p per article per day? Surely that would be profitable?

    1. Hey, I love the Guardian. And on top of everything else they are taking scifi seriously these days. Which I love too.

  8. An idiot could have predicted this. I liked the Times because it had the best layout and funny football coverage. Now I stick to the Independent and the Guardian.

  9. Best to keep in mind that this is really a large scale pilot project. Murdoch has plenty of papers, and can afford to take a risk with one of them.

  10. 5p???? If each article in a physical newspaper cost 5p they wouldn’t be nearly as cheap as they are. I could sometimes end up paying a pound a day on that madness

    The adverts on web news papers, as with regular newspapers, are what bring the money, you don’t need to click on the ad to generate money for the paper, just view the page without any powerful ad blocker you may have on. That’s how come most of them are managing to survive.

  11. However icky Uncle Rupert may be, this sort of thing didn’t originate with him, and it won’t stop with his papers.

    We all know that newspapers are flatlining, and we’re going to see a lot of experimentation with alternate revenue models, to use some businessdroid jargon.

    And why is that bad? Sure, some –most!– of the experiments won’t turn out, but isn’t that the nature of experimentation and innovation? To get a success, you have to go through a lot of failures.

    And for that matter, who’s to say that this will be a failure? If they’re registering users to get more qualified, and therefore more valuable, users, great: less Punch the Monkey, and U of Phoenix banner spam. If you’re registering them to eventually institute a paywall, well, charging people for your product doesn’t seem like a crazy business model to me.

    It turns out that giving your stuff away free or below cost actually isn’t that great an idea — ask for details.

    Long story shorter: Rupert=gross. Trying new things=necessary, even if it fails, and even if it pisses off people who like to get things free.

  12. It’s because of the “barrier to entry”: Paul Graham said in Hackers and Painters that his online shop business Viaweb succeeded because the barrier to entry was made as low as possible – people could see it, try it without hassle and create a working shop. In that case registration was necessary because you wanted to be identified.

    Here, readers have no patience – you don’t want to have to remember and manage yet another username and password just to read the news.

  13. Free accounts might as well be paid accounts. Anyone that would bother signing up for an account are probably the same people that would pay.

    It would be interesting to see if this paper is more profitable now even with less viewers.

  14. The New York Times has the same problem. When I post links to NYTimes articles on reddit they never get many upvotes, regardless of how interesting the article is, because so many people refuse to register, even for the best newspaper in the world.

    1. That’s right. Once the Ny Times went to a registration scheme to read, I quit reading it. It always irritates me when someone links to a walled Ny Times article. If the description is interesting, I’ll google it and find another source to read about it.

    2. … because so many people refuse to register, even for what was the best newspaper in the world forty years ago.

      Fixed that for you.

        1. The best newspaper in the U.S. is probably The Sacramento Bee or The Detroit Free Press. I’d have to give more thought to that question re: world papers. Frankly, I’m much more familiar with some regions than others.

          1. That is interesting. I’m just curious what your basis is for that judgment. Those are both good papers, but they are not really in the same category. So what is your unit of measurement for “best newspaper?”

          2. Why are The Sacramento Bee and The Detroit Free Press not in the same category as The New York Times? They’re ranked in the top 25 for circulation rates in the U.S.:


            They’re as old as their NYC competitor (indeed, the “Freep” is actually older by two decades) and have many Pulitzer Prizes credited to their print and photo journalists. What distinguishes The Sacramento Bee and The Detroit Free Press from the their NYC competitor is that the former continue to maintain a high degree of journalistic integrity and independence, whereas the latter, particularly in the last two decades or so, simply has not. Consequently, in my estimation, The Sacramento Bee and The Detroit Free Press are better newspapers.

          3. Why are The Sacramento Bee and The Detroit Free Press not in the same category as The New York Times?

            I don’t believe that either of those papers have international bureaus, for one. If something newsworthy happens in Ghana we’re probably not going to learn about it from a Bee reporter.

            Comparing local papers to international ones is a little unfair to both since they each have distinct strengths and weaknesses.

          4. I don’t think The Sacramento Bee or The Detroit Free Press have international bureaus either, and in fact many U.S. newspapers and TV outlets have significantly reduced their foreign presence during the past couple years.

            That said, if something happens in Ghana (and I am glad you use that example, because I am quite familiar with reporting in/on the African continent) The New York Times publishes information from wire reports provided by subscriber organizations such as the Associated Press, of which The Sacramento Bee and The Detroit Free Press are also members.

            If that something happening in Ghana becomes a larger story, The New York Times might send someone from the bureau based in Dakar, but at that point information is generally no longer the issue, but rather analysis. During the past two decades in particular, The New York Times has not been a reliable source for analysis of foreign affairs (c.f. Judith Miller). In your specific scenario, if for whatever reason I did not trust or did not have access to local analysis from a source like The Accra Daily Mail or the Ghanaian Chronicle, or else another newspaper from the region such as The Independent (Nigeria), then maybe I would turn to one of the Grey Lady’s more reliable global competitors on the subject of foreign analysis, like The Wall Street Journal and/or The Los Angeles Times (though likely not The Washington Post, for the same reasons as I would abstain from The New York Times).

            However, if the something happening in Ghana did become a larger story, at that point I would just as likely turn to a news service not based on the U.S. with a record of quality analysis. And if that something happening in Ghana happened for longer than a few days, I’d probably read about it in a news magazine like The Economist, assuming I wasn’t already reading it online. Hell, the BBC news web site would do.

          5. I’d be interested to see the Bee’s circulation numbers outside of California. It seems like the NYT is read all over the place, while I would guess the the Sac Bee has a readership that is disproportionately interested in California news and politics.

            I am not disagreeing with you that these are great papers. I never meant to give that impression. I also think that there really should be more papers competing with the NYT. However, I think that the NYT is basically the newspaper of record for the United States. I’d love to see a west coast paper compete on this. I think it would be good for the country. But I don’t really think that the Bee does that. Now, that doesn’t make the NYT better than the Bee. BUt it is a pretty important newspaper. And, come on, it is full of really good articles on really important stuff. If I had to only read one paper, it would be the NYT.

        2. Incidentally, I haven’t read it in a few years, but when I did I quite liked The Chicago Reader. It is an alternative weekly and ultimately does not compare to the other papers I mentioned in terms of breadth and coverage, but its take on life around the city, investigative work, and literary chops almost guaranteed a good read every time I picked it up.

          Also, apropos to the BB op, its business model is interesting and set the tone for many other alternative weeklies in the U.S.

  15. As several people said, is there any evidence that this constitutes any drop in actual revenue at all?

    If the 50% is now a targetable demographic, and you also know exactly which articles every single member of those 50% read and which ads they click on, advertisers are almost certainly going to be willing to more-than double the price they’ll pay for showing ads.

    So The Times’s web-based revenue may well have increased. I bet Murdoch’s chuffed.

  16. That’s actually very good news for the Times. If you can convert half of an anonymous audience into a potentially premium advertising demographic, it has at least a chance of sustaining some sort of ad-revenue model.

    None (with a capital N) of the “free” + “reg-free” online newspapers have managed to make anonymous ads profitable or even self-sustaining.

    The only other option that seems financially viable at this point is paid subscription, and it’s generally the last thing that anyone wants.

  17. Not a great loss. I really don’t read the NYT that much anymore. Not since Murdoch bought it. Now it’s entertainment rather than news. Like the WSJ.

    Ah the old days when there actually was news in newspaper and TV news programs.

  18. I went over there and bounced out, just to add one more number.

    But actually, I would have liked to have read the article on the Isner-Mahut marathon at Wimbledon, but I’m boycotting Rupert Murdoch properties.

      1. “free-market capitalists”??

        That died about the time Adam Smith worked it out enough to put it on paper.

        Monopoly capitalism rules. Free markets are the markets empires own. Individuals add innovation that the establishment then buy out, usually.

        Rupert Murdoch doesn’t believe in free markets, he believes in his markets; all others can stick it.


  19. FTFA: “All told, the analysis concludes that The Times’ new system is costing them readers, but it hasn’t been “catastrophic” for the site’s traffic”

    50% isn’t catastrophic? That’s a pretty significant bump.

  20. If 50% of the 50% that stuck around after the registration redirect stick around after full pay-access, I suspect this move will be a financial success and Rupert Murdoch will make money?

  21. Why doesn’t Murdoch just start putting boobies on page 3? He should stick to what he knows best.

  22. I think they’re going for something similar to what Prince did when he left Warner- Sell 100 000 and make $.10 per copy (or whatever measly cut artists get on album sales), or sell 10 000 and make $4 per copy.

    Smaller audience that’s collectively paying more is still profitable.

    1. “Smaller audience that’s collectively paying more is still profitable”

      The smaller audience is because you can only fool some of the people all of the time, and if you’ve bought into what the Times is selling then you’re already paying for it, many times over.

      In short, Eff You Judy Miller.

      1. “Eff You Judy Miller”


        What does she have to do with this? This isn’t the NY Times….

  23. Um, yea… Well, I’m a huge Top gear fan and read May’s, Hammond’s and Clarkson’s articles every week in the online versions of three different London papers. Or at least I used to… I’ll be missing Clarkson, but there is no way i’m paying for it…

  24. newspapers make plenty of money. just not enough to support bloated multinational publicly held corporations. once the rich greed-heads get out of the business, smaller local newspaper will thrive again.

    1. newspapers make plenty of money. just not enough to support bloated multinational publicly held corporations.

      …or enough to pay for full-time international reporting.

      I love my local weekly, but I know its limits.

  25. I used to visit The Times’ website quite often, But no longer.
    A number of commenters here seem to think this is a free website, just requiring a login? Well, no, it’s a paid access website now, and in order to sign up, you have to answer a load of intrusive questions, including your postal address. Okay, you don’t have to pay just yet, The Times is “giving you a free preview”. Ha.
    I did not complete the registration, because a)I have no intention of ever paying to read their website, and b) because I see no reason to answer all their questions.
    They do NOT need to know my address, other than to hit me with junk mail.
    So, I don’t buy their print edition any more either. I’ll read the Grauniad instead.

  26. new GNU project: a firefox plugin that automatically scrapes and uploads anything behind a paywall to a communal cache. The plugin checks the communal cache for content that is already uploaded, before allowing the user to proceed past a paywall.

    If you’re the first person to a paysite, you have to cough up, but then anyone else following the same link can read from the cache without having to pay money for redundant information.

    That way the Times only has to collect income from half a dozen or so people a day, until the whole site (or the pages of interest) are loaded into the communal cache. It will be much more efficient.

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