Beehive City has some interesting figures, and some back-of-the-envelope calculations based on those figures, relating to the Times and Sunday Times’s paywall, and the number of new digital (web and iPad) subscribers the paper has been picking up as opposed to print subscribers it has been losing.

Out of the 150,000 people who registered for the Times’s site while it was free-but-registration-required, only 15,000 paid for the service after the wall went up. And 12,500 people have paid for the Times’s separate $10 iPad application. (It’s not entirely clear where these figures came from, but Beehive City seems to believe them.)

Beehive City calculates that, between the two papers, circulation fell by 45,448 people last year, meaning that new digital subscribers plus iPad subscribers combined amount only to a bit more than half of the total loss the papers took last year.

And given that digital subscribers pay considerably less per month for the paper (the Times takes in £7 out of the £10 that they charge for the iPad app, and website readers probably only pay a little more on average), the monetary difference is even more pronounced.

Meanwhile, Mathew Ingram over at GigaOm advances the theory that the paywall is not so just intended to block “freeloaders”—people who use the site without paying or without sticking around for very long to make themselves desirable to advertisers), but also to prevent print readers from giving up the (more expensive) print edition to buy on-line.

Ingram thinks this is a poor strategy, because it’s considerably easier to build out an on-line audience than to build a print one—meaning that sooner or later the papers who stick with pushing print are going to find it has dwindled away completely despite their efforts, and as a result of those efforts they don’t have a very good digital presence either.

And finally, writer George Brock has actively rebelled against the paywall, by taking a review (of a book by Clay Shirky) that he submitted to the Times and republishing it in its entirety on his own blog. He admits that, since the review was commissioned by the paper, the Times owns the copyright to it.

However, Brock feels that by tightly locking content up, paywalls undermine the ability of print journalism to be “unbundled”, reaching a wider audience through the dissemination of links, quotes, and other Internet distribution.

A system that locks in so many items of such different value (and my review is not, to put it mildly, a valuable item) without being able to distinguish between them can’t work in the long run. I keep thinking back to that piece by James Fallows which found that everyone at the top of Google believes that content will be paid for – they just haven’t yet quite figured out the right trick to make it work easily.

Martin Belam, Information Architect for The Guardian (which paper is at once one of the paywall’s staunchest critics and happiest observers, given that it believes it stands to gain the traffic the Times is giving up), points out (with perhaps just a touch of smugness):

This is a stark contrast to how we are operating at The Guardian. If Brock had written the review and it had appeared on, he would have been able to republish it on his blog using the Open Platform API, similar to the way that Baby Barista does.

He’d have been able to reproduce it with a clear conscience about copyright, and the advertising & tracking code that the article carried would allow The Guardian to benefit from the republishing.

It remains to be seen how the Times is going to respond to what is, technically, a violation of its copyright.



  1. I hate to come across as smug, but it is probably a fair point. I do genuinely believe though that, for an industry sector that has long been derided for failing to keep up with digital progress, we are doing something truly innovative with the Open Platform. The Guardian and Observer built up their reputation by having great content combined with access to a very expensive monopolistic supply chain. Now we are in a position where newspapers don’t have a monopoly distribution position anymore. So instead, the Open Platform sees us saying, “We have great content, but we don’t have a monopoly on ideas to make money from it. Help us and we’ll share the profits”. It is a unique proposition amongst news providers, and a quick glance at the gallery of apps that have already been built shows the potential.

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