On those Times paywall numbers

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

I am surprised by the amount of positive reaction that’s going around to the news that The Times has around 105,000 paying online customers of various stripes. (Full break-down of the numbers.) Partially I’m surprised, because nobody seems to be comparing acquisition cost to revenue, as well as the technology development needed to sustain this effort, and are treating the revenue as all money to be spent on journalism. Or, indeed, how much advertising revenue they’ve lost. But mainly because, well, I think those numbers could well go down, not up.

Here’s the thing – I’m *two *of those 105,000. I’ve paid for the iPad app monthly sub a couple of times, and I currently have a paywall subscription. The problem for The Times, and the assumption that subs will grow from that base is this: I’m going to go from two of those subscribers to 1, or probably zero.

While I used the Times iPad app quite a lot in the early months, I’ve stopped using it entirely in the last couple of months. The free Telegraph app is part of that, but really, I’m using my RSS reader on the iPad in preference to the Times format. The lack of search, the lack of ability to share and comment on what I’m reading actually makes it less valuable to me than many free-to-air sites are. They are, in effect, asking me to pay for a reduction in value as compared to competitive products. That’s not a good proposition. And yes, the same holds true for the the paywalled version, too. I’m hanging on in there for two reasons: a couple of bloggers I value, and the fact that unsubscribing is difficult – you have to phone up and do it, you can’t cancel it on the web.

And the cynic in me can’t help feeling that there’s a reason for that…

That aside, the really significant figures aren’t these – they are the ones from a year’s time. Then we’ll know how this is really going.

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.