Times digital sales may be £6m a year

Steve Dinneen
Follow Steve
THE Times newspaper yesterday announced it has taken 105,000 “digital sales” of its newspaper since it erected a controversial paywall in July.

The number includes a series of heavily discounted “early adopter” offers and day passes, as well as iPad and monthly subscription sales.

A further 100,000 existing subscribers to the print edition of the Times newspaper have activated their free digital account, taking its total digital readership to over 200,000.

The numbers released did not break down how often or for how long users stayed on the site. It also failed to flag up individual users who bought multiple day passes or subscription options.

Sources close to the firm said around 50,000 of users pay for either a monthly subscription at £8.66 a month or a subscription to the iPad application at £9.99 a month.

This would generate revenue for digital services, including the minimal amount taken in through casual users, at around £6m a year.

There are no figures for how many trialists subsequently bought a subscription to the site but the source said the “vast majority” renew subscriptions, adding the firm is “very happy” with its conversion rate of casual users.

However, News International, the Times’ parent company, declined to comment on the level of churn the digital edition has experienced.

Analysts have suggested the drop in advertising revenue could be as much as £10m. However, sources close to News International argue this may be partially offset by higher rates charged for more detailed data on its users. Rates and bookings are also likely to pick up as advertisers get a clearer picture of subscriber numbers.

Before the paywall went up Times Online had a monthly unique readership of around 20m.

Numis analyst Lorna Tilbian said she was “very encouraged” by the figures. She said: “This is good news for News International. The sales are being driven by high margin iPad users and I expect the trend to continue. It won’t be long before other papers follow suit – where Murdoch goes others soon follow.”

News Corp chief executive James Murdoch said he is “excited by the progress we have made in a short space of time.”

The Times is the first mainstream UK newspaper to adopt a paywall for its website. The Financial Times and Wall Street Journal both operate profitable paywalls.

The FT last week reported its digital digital subscriptions had increased 50 per cent year-on-year to more than 180,00.