Signs of the times - paywalls do pay
Written by Sue Gee   
Saturday, 02 July 2011

The New York Times, which put up its Web paywall in March has now made its in-app subscription feature available via iTunes, becoming the highest profile app to work with Apple's requirement surrounding subscriptions.

In April NYT claimed to "have surpassed 100,000 subscriptions" but this included launch promtions at $0.99 fpr a four week trial whereas the lowest regular rate (available only via its website) is $15.

 

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There are stil no subscription figues for News Corps The Daily other than they are "much, much higher" than the estimate of 5,000 made shortlly after it went from free to paid for in March. However, in the UK News International has announced that the number of digital subscribers to The Times and The Sunday Times has exceeded 100,000 as it marks the 1st anniversary since it started charging for digital editions.

Has it benefitted from the publicity drive to gain digital subscripion to The Daily? At the end of June The Times and The Sunday Times had 101,036 current, monthly digital subscribers up by 28% from 79,000 at the end of February 2011.

 

The Times is downloaded onto an average of 35,000 iPads every day, an increase of 40% in the 4 months since February. The average for The Sunday Times is 31,000, an increase of 41%. Digital and 7 day print subscribers all have access to the iPad edition and this figure also includes those who have subscribed directly through Apple.

The Times and The Sunday Times iPad apps are available as part of a digital subscription, £2 for a week. The Times iPad app is also available direct from iTunes at £9.99 for a month while The Sunday Times app is available direct from iTunes for £1.79 a week.

A new iPhone and Android phone app launched for The Times earlier this week. It is currently free for a short period and it will later be included in the digital subscription package.

As part of its "digital-first" strategy to de-emphasise print and cocentrate its efforts on the transition to digital-only, Guardian News and Media will cease printing its internation editions of The Guardian and The Observer on October 1, 2011. This presumably means that  the Guardian’s much-delayed iPad edition will be available before then.

Meanwhile the Guardian app for iPhone has reached 67,000 subscribers. In the US the app is free of charge and its dowloads exceed 36,100.

It is the Guardian website that is its success story. It had 42,785,039 unique visitors in April. It has an Alexa rank of 190 which admittedly has some way to go to reach The New York Times.  Indeed as the traffic to the two sites seems almost perfectly parallel its unlikely it will ever catch up - even so that's traffic to be proud of.

 

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Although the websites may be thriving, it is the paying customer that matters and here the contribution of  the mobile market matters. At the moment the numbers seem to justify the risks of building a paywall. The wider question is can this success be generalized to other online and mobile publishing. If you build a free website with lots and lots of free quality content then they will come. If you charge for it they still come but in much smaller numbers. Even so it mabe enough to costitute economic success.

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