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Hard paywall takes The Times from loss to profit

20 October 2015 · By Marek Miller

When considering all the news media business model options, The Times feels its 2010 decision to go all paid is still the right one. Here are three reasons why.

“Similarly to paywall, we may be talking right now about the cover price, because this is what we have been doing for years — charging the readers for news.” So began Alan Hunter, head of digital at The Times & Sunday Times, News UK, as he addressed delegates on the second day of the INMA News Media Conference.

The basic principle of The Times is that quality costs, Hunter said. Journalists can’t do the top class investigations (like the FIFA bribing case) without generating costs.

Hunter said £6 a week is fair offer to readers and users. This price grants readers access to mobile Web, desktop, iPad, and iPhone apps. From readers’ feedback, the publisher knows they like this one-price-for-all model.

The Times went completely paid in 2010 and now has remarkable 170,000 digital-only subscribers.

There were other positive side effects of implementing the paywall as well, Hunted pointed out:

  • Print sales have stood up remarkably well.

  • The publisher is making money out of it (in 2009 they were losing money).

The Times & Sunday Times now has 70,000 digital readers a day, with 100,000 on Sundays. The dwell time for The Times is 40 minutes Monday through Saturday, and 65 minutes on Sundays.

The Times offers the readers interactives, sports and video highlights, a red box Web site with comment analysis and data about politics. Times+ has events, special offers, and extras for reders.

Hunter also mentioned that the publisher calls subscribers “members,” showing a much deeper relationship with a user. The Times wants to make sure paying users get more than content only.

The Times is constantly looking at other models, asking additional questions, Hunter said. When considering a free model, the question rises: Could they get the audience to match their current revenues? When considering a metered model, the question becomes: Will anyone pay? When considered freemium, the question is: Does this undermine the idea of edition?

In summary, Hunter gave three arguments for The Times paywall:

  1. Quality journalism deserves to be paid for.

  2. A simple model works well.

  3. This model helped The Times move from loss to profit.

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