Online Newspapers – Does Charging For Subscriptions Work?

By September 14, 2010 Internet News No Comments

Well, I don’t have the revenue statistics from timesonline.co.uk but check out the Google trends for the website, since they started charging for their online paper.

Ignore the “Daily Unique visitors” statistic – which I am wary of – it has never seemed very accurate to me – just check out the trend.

A sharp drop in visits from Google, since they made their site pay for subscription, in June. Note this is a drop only from visits from Google, not from overall visits. We can’t tell what the actual site traffic is, using Google Trends, and that information is very sensitive to them I am sure. Not only them, but all the newspapers online, who are desperately searching for a new, improved business model.

Anyway, the drop in visits from Google, as shown above, could be due to a number of things:

1. The site no longer being totally crawlable by Google, so less people finding them in search results for topics of interest. With a lot of your content behind a security firewall for subscribers only, it is not only being blocked from users reading it, but blocked from users even knowing it exists

2. People knowing that now they will have to pay, so no longer going to the site, even when they see Timesonline.co.uk in search results

3. They are no longer included in Google News search results.

The cost of the online subscription is 2GBP per week, or 1GBP per day, and was heralded as a way of maintaining the integrity of journalism;


“Paid content is the only way that we are going to see a sustainable
economic model for quality journalism.”

Now, I don’t 100% agree with this at all, and looking from the above graph, neither do a lot of people (unless they have a huge influx of people going straight to their site). People will want to pay for a service if they think it is unique, that is, they can’t get it free anywhere else. But hundreds of other online newspapers are providing news content for free, by funding with advertising, so unless you are very offended by adverts, you can get it free.

The only thing going against this theory is that the other main online newspapers I show above didn’t display an increase in traffic when Timesonline.co.uk experienced their decrease – but maybe the timesonline subscribers are against the DailyMail and The Guardian.

Unless the Timesonline is providing other excellent content or functionality, pay for subscription might not be as successful as Rupert Murdoch might think, no matter how mad it makes him.

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