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Behind the Times paywall: 46,154 readers a day

July 20, 2010 26 Comments

There have been several attempts to work out how many people are paying to access the Times website now its gone behind a paywall. My estimate is: 46,154 a day. Update: Tom Whitwell, assistant editor of the Times, says in the comments below that this figure "*spectacularly* underestimates" the actual number of visitors to the new site.

Keep out sign


To work this out, I looked at how many people commented on two similar stories - one on the Times site (now paywalled) and one on the Guardian site. As you can see below, from screenshots captured at 1.45pm yesterday, the Times had had 4 comments in almost exactly 2 hours. The Guardian, on its similar but slightly later story, had had 117 comments in 90 minutes.

So if we take the number of readers of the Guardian's website - 1.8 million a day according to the most recent ABCes - multiply that by 4/117 (the ratio of comments on each story) and then multiply that by 90/120 (to allow for the fact that the Times story had been online longer) we get:

1,800,000 x (4/117) x (90/120) = 46,154 readers.

Comparing Guardian and Times comment numbers on similar stories

Comparing Guardian and Times comment numbers on similar stories

Some assumptions ...

Obviously, there are a bunch of assumptions built into here, so 46,154 has a somewhat spurious level of accuracy.

Propensity to comment

It's probably not true that the same proportion of readers comment on Times stories as Guardian ones. Finding comparable data was hard, however, as the Times seems to have removed the comments from all its old pre-paywall stories, so I couldn't see how many comments Times stories got pre-paywall compared to the Guardian.

Growth of comments over time

The number of comments probably doesn't grow in a linear way over time - but comparing stories after 90 minutes and 2 hours seems close enough.

Comment bait

The stories aren't exactly the same so may not have motivated people to comment in the same proportions.

But you'd be surprised how hard it is to find stories on newspaper sites with the same sort of angle published at the same sort of time and which allow comments. These were the most comparable stories I could find.

And it's not as if other Times stories have loads of comments, as this screenshot of the homepage at 5.10pm yesterday shows - after 3 hours there are only 4 comments about Joe Cole signing for Liverpool and just 6 comments after 3hrs 40 mins about Cameron calling the Lockerbie bomber's release "utterly wrong".

Few comments on other stories

Few comments on other stories

Comparing this figure with other estimates

15,000 paying subscribers

This figure of 46,154 is higher than the 15,000 paying subscribers since the paywall went up that Beehivecity claimed over the weekend - but you'd expect this as existing Times+ subscribers (ie those who joined Times+ before the paywall went up) can also access the site. They will count towards daily unique visitors -  but won't count as extra paying subscribers.

I can't find a figure for Times+ subscribers, but I have this vague memory of about 60,000-odd of those. This story, from October 2009, claims Culture+, a version of TImes+, "has attracted 90,000 active members" (whatever "active members" means).

Either way,  if you subscribe to The Times newspaper 7 days a week, you get free access to the websites. So all this would explain why there are more than 15,000 daily viewers of The Times paywalled sites - because  people are getting it free as part of their other subscription packages.

2/3 drop

The FT, on the other hand, reported at the weekend that:

Visits to The Times’ website have dropped by two-thirds in the weeks since News International, the media group controlled by Rupert Murdoch, began to implement its paywall strategy, according to new data.

However, the decline has been gentler than the 90 per cent fall in traffic some researchers expected.

Now, 1.2 million readers used Times Online a day according to the last ABCes before it pulled out - so if its traffic had dropped by 90% it would be looking at 120,000 a day.

But even this figures sound too high to me, knowing what else we know. And Hitwise's figures seem a bit odd - the last lot in particular failed to distinguish between home page traffic and those that gone any further beyond the paywall.

So what do you think? I wrote once that, if anyone can charge for content, Murdoch can. But maybe even he can't ...

Photo credit

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  • [...] Mixed figures are coming in on how badly the site is performing. The Guardian is reporting that 90% of The Times’ readership has deserted for free-to-read services, whilst the Financial Times is going with a slightly healthier decline of two thirds (stats taken from here). [...]

  • Sonia says:

    From what I can see, the number of visitors quoted only shows how many people MAY have viewed this story *IF* there were no paywall. I would think that given there *IS* a paywall, the figures are likely to be lower. The figures quoted are based on visitors to free content not paid-for content which as we have seen in other paid content trials around the world does put visitors off. What we need is a leak! Any volunteers Times staffers?

    • What I was trying to do was work out how many readers there must be to the site, based on the number of comments - in general, you'd expect one comment for every X,000 readers (and X will vary depending on the story, how easy a site makes it to leave comments etc).

      So I took the ratio of (comments on the Guardian story) to (total number of visitors per day to all the Guardian's stories) and applied that to the one thing we do know about the paywalled Times site, which is how many comments there were on a similar story.

      Which, if the likelihood of a comment is the same (a big if!) tells us how many daily visitors there are to all the Times stories - which are all behind the paywall. No?

  • Sonia says:

    Ah, I see....this is all supposing that the Times is not employing that age old newspaper trick of making up its letters (comments) pages... :)

  • Sounds like an unintelligent man is trying to steal traffic for his own site. D00d, plz... stop. There is a 2:100 odds that you are actually intelligent - how do you like your odds? Haha... I wouldn't bet on them either.

    If you're going to attempt to calculate something at least use hits & not comments, cos 1 user could post many comments, under different pseudonyms from 1 ip address. Whereas hits concern individual ip addresses.

  • Tom Whitwell says:

    Malcolm, to defend your honour against Mr Lolcats above, I thought I should step in. Unfortunately I can't give you our "hits".

    However, I've just checked the daily # of visitors on the new site, and I'm pleased to say that you are *spectacularly* underestimating that number.


    • No, we need the hits. It's 1990 and that's how we measure websites' success: hits on a server ;)

      Anyway, thanks for the info - I've added an update to the intro (can I just confirm that you're talking about visitors inside the paywall - ie excluding those who follow a link to a page they can't access and also those who get to the homepage and go no further?)

    • Jan says:

      Oh, can you please quantify the *spectacularly*? Is it 1% or 1000? People always say big words but then... you know the rest :)

  • Mikey says:

    Mr Lolcats has neglected to take into account the fact that we're talking about a paywall. One of the significant benefits of The Times's paywall is that every user has a single login: No multiple pseudonyms, and IP addresses are irrelevant.

    Another unquantifiable issue blurring the maths here is that paying customers might - or might not - feel more inspired to comment than 'drive by' readers.

    Very few people know what the Times's traffic is right now, but one way or another we'll all have a pretty good idea by Christmas.

  • Jenny Simpson says:

    Really interesting way of estimating this.

    From memory, there were always far fewer comments on The Times articles than on The Guardian (which has a very, very active comments community).

    Also I suspect that the policy of making people use real names is restricting the number of people making comments. Maybe Mr Lolcats would have been more moderate if he was using his own name?

    Re the payroll generally - I was a fairly regular online reader before and was happy to be a tiny drop in their advertising revenue pool. But (of course there's a but), the poor user-experience and lack of unique, valuable content just doesn't warrant a sign-up - and a sign-up that doesn't even allow me some fun with online anonymity at that!

    I'll buy the paper now and then, but unfortunately in its current state, I'm not tempted to sign-up. Looks like I'm not alone.

    • Jenny: I had actually planned to find 10 or so old articles with comments on Times and Guardian so I could get a feel for relative numbers of comment. But Times seems to have deleted comments on old posts.

      And your real name point is interesting. In some ways the barrier to commenting is lower on The Times - you don't need to register as you would at the Guardian. But once registered, yes, the lack of anonymity might make people less inclined to comment (or less inclined to write ugh / call this journalism / etc).

      Also, with only 4 comments, a small change in this number would have made a big increase in my guesstimate. If 6 people had commented, my figure would have been 50% higher ...

  • simon says:

    this is definately a unique way of trying to figure out how many people are actually paying for their online news.

    i havent paid the times, so i dont know wether a subscriber can use a nom de plume or has to use their real name. i would imagine though that the times would make it possible to post comments semi-anonymously. in which case it would seem that the guardians 'one-time' registration is similar to that of the times.

    the lack of comments may also suggest that a lot of the times subscribers are corporate subscribers interested only in the news and not the community. this lack of community is only to be expected from a murdoch outfit.

    its interesting that the times contributor declined to give any details of page/site hits. what have they got to hide?

    oh yeah, the fact that their online reader base has fallen through its own arse.

  • Fred Flintstone says:

    You can change your "screen name" in your profile to be any name you like, as long as it doesn't clash with the profanity filter. So, I doubt having your real name as the default decreases people's willingness to comment. I doubt the most prolific commentator really is called "Eric Cartman".

  • Maria says:

    I've been a subeditor on various magazines and newspapers, and one very suprising thing from the view stats vs comments is that the most commented articles are not necessarily the ones that have the most readers.

    Interesting approach though.

  • Mick says:

    Interesting stuff. I've just done the same test on today's headline story about the G20 protester Ian Tomlinson (22 July). It's 6pm and I don't know exactly how long each site has been running the story but the Guardian has 1055 comments while the Times has notched up a mighty 52.

  • George says:

    I would pay the daily charge if their was no advertising but if they need to charge for online content and have adverts then the newspaper can't compete with quality titles like The Guardian and The Telegraph.

  • I think that the numbers will fluctuate and the real importance here is the business model that the times have chosen to adopt in these trying times. Promotion may work but there will certainly be some hard lessons to learn, and The Times will be the first mover in this market, with stiff competition from the BBC.

    It is certainly a great subject for debate:

  • [...] geld is geen houdbare situatie. Alles achter slot en grendel werkt evenmin, zeker in België niet. The Times overleeft misschien op 46154 lezers op een markt van ettelijke tientallen miljoenen, qua schaalgrootte is dat [...]

  • [...] a lot of readers since forcing people to pay for its services. Indeed, traffic could be down by as much as 90%, possibly more, since introducing the [...]

  • Jonny Hill says:

    George: The advertising is extremely limited on the new sites - If you compare it with all other media

  • Jonny Hill says:

    George: The advertising is extremely limited on the new sites - If you compare it with all other media it only has one square slot per page, compared to at least three areas of advertising on other sites. It is also in a non -obtrusive format so you wont have ads appearing over editorial like so many other sites.

  • Matt says:

    Here's another way of doing it...

    This would seem to indicate that they're at about 20% of pre-paywall levels, and perhaps at about 14% of the Guaridan's current level.

    250K then, roughly.

    Presumably that number includes many who arrive, and then leave without paying... the interesting number is the total brought in by the paywall (minus the lost advertising revenue)

  • [...] Posted by Max Tatton-Brown on Nov 02, 2010 TweetThe question went round recently as to whether or not PRs were still pitching The Times since it put up the paywall, considering rumoured subscription levels of as little as 40,000 readers. [...]

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