The News of The World, The Times and The Sunday Times will all be subject to an online pay-wall within the next month, with both Times editions already restricted to willing subscribers. Since the implementation of the subscription fee for The Times and its Sunday counterpart, it is estimated that some two thirds of the site’s traffic has departed (according to an Experian Hitwise analysis). This is not as bad as was expected; News International Ltd had predicted a loss of approximately 90%.
With an introductory offer of just £1 for 30 days, perhaps the decision to charge readers would pay off. This does not seem to be the case so far, with a mere 15,000 subscribers to date in a study by Beehive City, run by the ex-media editor of The Times, Dan Sabbagh.
While online subscription may be stalling, it seems that the complementary Apple iPad application is faring far better, with 12,500 people signing up for a 30 day period on the device. At £9.99 per month, this service is considerably cheaper than its web equivalent, and offers a more attractive ROI for The Times. This figure is made even more remarkable given the number of iPad owners in relation to those with internet access via a laptop or PC.
It is believed that around 150,000 users signed up for the free trial period of the paper, but with only 10% of that number actually parting with cash, the conversion rate does not bode well for News Corps.
Apart from the general shock of the request for payment from The Times online, there are several other obstacles to overcome if the newspaper wants to increase its membership. The primary one is the most common criticism; why would anyone pay for content when they can access the same news stories for free elsewhere? For The Times and The News of The World, it is imperative that they offer more than just news. An additional level of service will be expected if they are to lure in paying customers.
As a conversion rate optimisation strategy, the newspapers opting for pay-wall barriers must sell their product aggressively, highlighting the benefits of purchasing Times content over the free material offered by The Guardian for instance.
Other issues which will deter potential subscribers include the requirement to make frequent, small-scale payments. This is not a custom the average internet user is accustomed to. It would prove to be far more convenient and appealing were an alternative method of payment were to be devised. Paying less frequently will serve to retain more customers as they are not put-off by a regular demand for more money.
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