You know, the one advantage that the Times has is that, by virtue of having been free for so many years, they’ve built up this humongous audience online. Probably the biggest online audience for a pure news site in the world. Depending on whose numbers you believe, it’s anywhere from forty million to sixty million uniques a month, globally. People forget that a big part of their online audience is overseas; it’s not just about the US. And what their statistics have shown is that the vast majority of that forty million visitors go there casually—five, ten times a month. So they don’t expect to lose that, based on the fact that you can still go and get twenty stories for free. It’s only the very high-end, heavy user that goes every day, spends fifteen or twenty minutes on the site. So if, as they say, fifteen percent are heavy users, that’s five, six, seven million readers. And if they just convert a small percent of that unit to their paywall, then they’re going to make money. So it’s a small percent of a small percent.
When the Times did their conference call on the first quarter, the paywall had been up for three weeks, and they claimed that they already had a hundred thousand registered paying users. Now, I think the stock market took that skeptically, because of all of the promotions and freebies, and because it was an early number and we hadn’t been through a renewal cycle yet. I think the market is taking a sort of wait-and-see attitude.
But look, it’s not a foray—it’s a survival issue. It’s not fun and games. They’ve got to find new ways of getting paid, or they’re not going to be able to support the expensive journalism. It’s just that simple. At some point, I think that the advertising in the traditional papers will find an equilibrium. And we’re starting to see some signs of that now, but we’re not quite there.
“Help wanted” has started to come back a little bit, auto advertising has started to come back. But national advertising is still not as strong as you’d like to see, and then retail remains very difficult for the papers. And so we haven’t quite hit bottom yet, and that’s a big, big time issue. In the interim, though, the big papers have great content, and they have a big audience. They’ve got to figure out a way to get paid. And I think The New York Times, at least, has made it clear that the first price points will not be the last price points; they’re going to adjust this on the fly to whatever works.
Ends today: If you'd like to help CJR and win a chance at one of
10 free print subscriptions, take a brief survey for us here.