The numbers are in so far (from beehivecity):
Number of people registering for The Times and Sunday Times websites
during the free trial period: 150,000…..
Number of people actually agreeing to pay money: 15,000
This figure, apparently, is considered disappointing. And if it’s
right it’s certainly a slow start (right now Beehive City considers
itself bigger than Times Online, and we ain’t lying either). But you’d
still expect that to build steadily from here even if the Mandelson
memoirs haven’t delivered the box office.
But there is more obviously positive news too.
Number of people paying for The Times’s separate iPad application: 12,500
What does this mean? It’s hard to tell right now, but Henry Blodget points out that right now, it isn’t fantastic given the overheads of an organization the size of the Times:
At 2 pounds a week, the average online subscriber would produce 100
pounds of revenue a year. 150,000 of them would produce 15 million
pounds of revenue.
15 million pounds of revenue would be nice for a company used to
living on, say, $5 million of revenue. But it wouldn’t even begin to
offset the cost of the Times’ huge newsroom.
And given Blodget is being generous by counting all the people who have registered and not actually signed up to pay, it looks even worse. But it is early days yet and I’m sure Murdoch expected small numbers to begin with as people get used to the concept.
I’m actually in favor of pay walls if it means journalists get paid. It is simply unsustainable to have a content model that relies on cheap labor to provide a constant stream of decent work. Journalists need to get paid for their work the same as doctors need to get paid for theirs. And if it means parts of the internet are closed off, then so be it.
This isn’t to say that an advertising based model of free content can’t or won’t work (Gawker is an example of a profitable online media outlet), but certain institutions may not be able to survive without erecting pay walls. And I’d rather see historic institutions like the Times (despite being owned by Murdoch) survive than wither away.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.