Kremlinology with Rupert Murdoch: what do the Times paywall numbers mean?

In my latest Guardian column, "News Corp Kremlinology: what do the Times paywall numbers mean?" I have a good rummage around the mysterious figures released by The Times earlier this month on the performance of its vaunted pay-for-news scheme. The Times released the numbers with a lot of triumphant accompaniment, but I'm not clear on whether their figures can be taken of indication of anything, except, perhaps, a reluctance to report in full on their experiment's performance.
Here's what the Times will say: about 50,000 of the current paid users are on a monthly subscription of some sort: £8.66, £1, or free with a TalkTalk subscription. They will not disclose how many £1 trial users turn into £8.66 users, or how many sustain their £8.66 subscription into the second or third month. However, the anonymous official spokesperson did say that whichever users are remaining after three months are more than 90% likely to stump up for a fourth month. From this, I think we can safely assume that lots less than 90% of paid users stick around for a second month, and of those, less than 90% sustain themselves for a fourth month.

But the Times isn't saying.

The remaining 50,000, of course, are people who paid £1 for a single day's access. Some number of these converted to monthly subscribers.

Some number bought a second article. How many? The Times isn't saying.

So, best case: there are 50,000 paid subscribers, all of whom got there by paying £1 for an article, converted immediately to £1 monthly subscriptions and now pay £8.66 every month (or £9.99 in the case of iPad users who want to pay extra for the privilege of not being allowed to access the website).

Worst case: 50,000 people tried a day pass and left. 20,000 TalkTalk subscribers got a free subscription with their phone which they may or may not know or care about. 5,000 people use it with an iPad.

75,000 people tried a £1 month trial. 40,000 of them signed up for a second month, 30,000 of them for a third, and 25,000 stayed on for a fourth month.

News Corp Kremlinology: what do the Times paywall numbers mean?


  1. So, here’s my theory.

    There are about 23 percent of us, racists, bigots and theocrats.

    (about the numbers that stayed fiercely loyal to Bush, minus the top two percent very wealthy)

    These people need to escape the otherwise ordinary social pressure to grow up and play well with the other kids. Normally, they gather in clubs and other places, among “their special friends”, “who understand how it is”, and that’s the default state of things.

    Turns out, validating their issues pays good money! When we air programming that reinforces their discriminatory positions, which are otherwise ALWAYS WRONG, they can enjoy the daylight, feeling like one of the ordinary people, with few worries about having to face being the asses they are.

    Rupert understands this. Those people will watch the program, buy the product, write the letter, and make the phone call, because they need the enablement, and it’s worth a lot to them.

    He can message to that base, and they will pay, thus powering a empire that will compete very successfully.

    It’s worked on radio, TV, print, why not Internet?

  2. I have an easier way of cutting through the obscuration of Murdoch’s PR.

    If the scheme really was a success, they would say explicitly how it was a success and be more forthcoming with their triumphant figures. They have not done this, therefore the situaltion is closer to the lower end of the spectrum of the scenario.

  3. 1) Management decrees policy
    2) policy enacted, results measured
    3) management demands report on results, positive report expected -not desired, EXPECTED
    4) hapless underlings eager to keep their jobs sift and sort data to find some positive indicator; subsequent report necessarily ignores all neutral or negative indicators
    5) report passed on to PR department to be issued as press release.

  4. “A well executed and well financed advertising campaign can get a couple of hundred thousand people to try anything – give me £5,000 to spend reaching every person in Britain and I’ll find you 200,000 people who’ll spend a pound to rub blue mud in their navels on a trial basis.”

    I would very much like to see this…

  5. Sorry Rupert, but the world changes. Best to adapt to the changing landscape before you fall away in obsolescence. As then you can maintain some kind of empire, albeit one very different than what you operate today.

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