7.1m people (unique) visited The Times Online website in May 2010.
Rupert Murdoch then launched a paid model on June 1st 2010 and reports are that the site visitation has dropped around 95% to 355,000 (once the free trial was over) - all of whom are now paying either £1 a day or £2 a week to access the content.
Being a former Times and Sunday Times reader in the UK, I'm mildly tempted to pay for the content, I certainly would if I were still in the UK as I do value some (not all) of their content. And the some is very much the key to the debate about how paid news content online is going to develop over time.
Not everyone agrees with me of course, and the numbers and blog feedback speak for themselves in terms of the general public. These two tickled me in particular:
"That sound you hear is champagne corks popping at the Guardian and BBC"
"Murdoch may be right in principle but The Times doesn't live in a vacuum. The issue is not whether or not the Times content is worth paying for, it's whether it's worth more than the papers still giving their content away. You don't have to out-run the grizzly bear, you just have to out-run your mate"
Murdoch is no mug though, and whilst he might have to take a short (ok, medium) term hit on revenue and traffic (The Times is losing $16m a month anyway...) he knows that ultimately, paid journalistic content is the model that will prevail, it has to (we are already paying on the ipad!).
At the moment however, I don't believe News International have got the model quite right. But you have to start somewhere and that somewhere is either pay for the lot, or don't pay at all. Pleasingly, for Rupert and friends is independent research that found a combined 23 percent of Times Online users rated themselves variations of “likely” to pay in the long run.
My preference however, would be for a narrowcast approach to the content, where users can pick and choose which parts of the wider Times Online or News International content portfolio they want to pay for. This, incidentally is a model I'd love to see in the Television world, where I can pick and choose channels from around the globe - but that's one for another day.
I don't necessarily find the Times Gardening news particularly interesting, so would rather not pay for it, I do however love their Sport coverage, and there are a couple of columnists in particular that I'd be willing to pay for - I just don't want to have to cover the rest of the content that I know I can get from the BBC (or whoever). The big challenge for News international, and whatever publisher goes next (New York Times will go paid in January 2011) is to work out what they are willing to give away (such as general news), and what is deemed as valuable (columnists, insight etc) and therefore paid. Once they do this, they'll have a working model that is the perfect mix of paid and free.
It's interesting to see what impact this shift has had on the Times social platforms in the last 2 months too. Whereas The Guardian in the UK, and all the papers in Australia use Twitter to announce news and drive traffic to their site, The Times twitter feed has turned in to aterribly drab, nothing affair pointing people at some blog content that remains free and archive news - yawn.
Again, they'll need to look at how they manage this over time as that's clearly not a working model for a social platform.
All credit to them however, the journey is underway, and I'm sure they never expected to get it right first time round.