Even With A Very Leaky Paywall, Noticeable Decline In NY Times Traffic

from the ad-revenues-will-grow... dept

With the NY Times offering up its pretend paywall, part of the supposed idea was that the site was trying to figure out a way to retain its traffic and get people to pay — a difficult balancing act for sure. So the way it did so was to set up a paywall that didn’t really exist, hoping that some people would just pay anyway, but that traffic wouldn’t decline. So far, it appears they’re a bit off on that latter assumption. Some initial reports show that, in the immediate aftermath of the “not really a wall” going up, page views declined between 11 and 30% per day. That’s an awful lot of potential ad revenue lost on a site that gets a lot of traffic. Perhaps it’s made up by finding people who were willing to pay for the paywall, but if you had to guess which strategy is going to provide more growth going forward, would it be new paywall subscribers, or more ad revenue?

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Comments on “Even With A Very Leaky Paywall, Noticeable Decline In NY Times Traffic”

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27 Comments
fogbugzd (profile) says:

People were probably still using their 20 free views during the 12 day period. It will be interesting to see what happens for the rest of the month.

Also, there is a sponsor (Lincoln?) giving people free accounts for the rest of the year. This indicates that there is a fair amount of sponsorship/advertising money laying around out there. It might just be enough to keep the paywall from being a total disaster if there is some other company or group of companies willing to pick up the free subscriptions next year.

fogbugzd (profile) says:

Re: Response to: JC on Apr 12th, 2011 @ 8:27pm

I don’t doubt her numbers. Traffic seems to be down by several measures. I was actually saying that the numbers in her study may actually be propped up artificially by the 20 free views and sponsorship. I think without those props the numbers would be worse, but we a still talking about a failure. Without the props we might be talking about a flaming disaster.

We do not know how many paid subscriptions the are and how much that offsets revenue losses.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Paywall

Whenever I see a nytimes.com link, I do not even bother clicking, since I expect to be faced with a silly “please register to read” screen.

Yes, that is not the current paywall. It is a much older registration wall I recall it used to have. But after hitting it a few times, I gave up on that site.

If it were not for techdirt, I would not even know they had changed the paywall to a much more confusing thing (and which sometimes will not ask “please register”). How many people gave up on that site because of previous “experiments”, and will not know it is now (somewhat) more accessible? And even if they know (like I do now), will they change their perception of that site as “useless”? And more relevant to the current discussion, will the current “experiment” mean several people will ignore that site in the future, even if they later give up on any paywall/registration wall?

Casey Bouch says:

Inside their head

This is really a question posed at NYTimes.com readers. Does the New York Times offer a better product then other free news sources?

Does the New York Times offer up a level of quality that other news sources don’t? Do they offer more ‘truthiness’ in their news stories? Do they deliver the content faster or in a format thats more appealing?

If the product you are trying to sell is being given away freely elsewhere, you have to make your product better somehow. Is nytimes.com better?

Also searching news.google.com for source:new_york_times seems to be an easy way to jump the fence.

Donna says:

Before the paywall went up, I downloaded the complete NYT every Sunday. I don’t really have time to read the M-F editions. I came to appreciate the quality and depth of its news. It has original reporting, not churnalism. I was contemplating subscribing so I could continue reading it.

But here’s the interesting thing: Once the paywall went up, I discovered that my method for downloading the paper wasn’t affected by it. I can still download the whole thing everyday for free. But since there’s a price, I think it’s even more valuable and have started reading it during the week as well. So my traffic has increased due to the firewall.

Aaron Martin-Colby (profile) says:

Devil's Advocate

I think that the paywall is a stupid idea, but I think that it’s too early to officially call it a stupid idea. I think that the data are too limited to really extract a meaningful decline.

I’ve been following the Times on Alexa and Quantcast and the time leading up to the paywall was wild, and the time after the paywall seems to have simply leveled off, if anything.

I think that data will be more indicative of the Times’ situation when we get nearer to the 30-day mark from the initiation of the paywall. And even then, I suspect that the Times will be rather free in handing out accounts and letting in people who otherwise shouldn’t be let it in, probably because they’re terrified of the paywall being a failure and being forced to hear “Told’ja so!” from all of the websites that were, well, telling them so.

phil (profile) says:

The Times has no tech savvy

I’ve been a subscriber to the weekend editions of the NY for 30 years on the West coast. If they just asked me to pay $79 a year for access on my mobile devices I’d have been willing to do so. After all it adds another service. Yet, they try to be surreptitious about it and charge a ridiculous fee that makes no sense. They really don’t know their customers nor do they understand today’s online world. It’s sad to watch incompetent thinking at work from an otherwise intelligent organization. They’ve become their own worst enemies.

Suzanne Lainson (profile) says:

My own experience

I’m reading the Times as much as always, but my page views may still be going down, as far as measurement is concerned. I usually see NY Times articles I like via Twitter, so I shouldn’t run into the paywall. Yet I found that I was hitting the 20 article limit within a day or two of the month. Here’s what I think happened and my response.

I usually read the article and if I want to save it for myself, I hit print, copy it, and then send myself a copy. Evidently hitting print triggers the paywall in a way that just reading the article as separate pages does not. So now I still read the article, but don’t set it as a single page or a print copy. That eliminates 1/3 of all reading I was doing because I don’t get to do those actions.

In other words, I am still reading as many NY Times articles online as always, but I am not taking the additional steps to view the article in print version or as a single page. If there are many readers like me, there will be a drop in page views without a corresponding drop in readership.

J. Spencer Love says:

At $50 per year, I happily paid

At one time, the NYTimes restricted access to its “premium” content, like their columnists, and asked for $50 per year. I happily paid that; they discontinued that program.

Now they want to charge me $35 per month ($420/year). That’s more than their news is worth to me. If I want to restrict my reading to one or another of my devices, I can get it for $20 (iPad) or $15 (iPhone), with unlimited web browsing. I am currently considering whether $15 per month, $180 per year, is worth it to me; it might be. But until I decide, the number of articles I read there is way down. I just glance at their home page and move on. I am saving my 20 views against the possibility of another major event, like the recent ones in Japan, or more congressional stupidity.

I don’t live in their area (near NYC); I live near Boston. Though it may have (had?) the same owners, boston.com is far inferior; I don’t even look at their home page, though they are connected to the best of the print newspapers from around here. I do not subscribe to a newspaper; when I did, the dead trees just piled up, mostly unread.

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