You are what you can afford to read
17 February 2015 | 0
The Irish Times‘ decision to implement a ‘leaky’ paywall to boost its digital revenue was largely met with indifference today by the hordes on social media. On my brief scan of discussion forums the mood could be summed up with a collective shrug followed by a choice of either ‘we can get the same or better content for free elsewhere’ or ‘this stuff has to be paid for somehow’. As debates go it would have made for terrible headlines: General resignation as newspaper makes necessary commercial decision. Shocker.
From 23 February readers will be presented with the four digital subscription packages after reading 10 articles on a desktop computer, tablet or smartphone. A ‘standard digital’ package of €12 per month will give unlimited access to irishtimes.com on any device; free access to the newspaper’s archive; digital versions of both crosswords; a subscriber-only Sunday edition delivered by e-mail; and additional benefits like e-books and event invitations.
A second ‘premium digital’ package of €16 per month adds an e-paper edition. Print copies of the paper are added to a ‘complete print and digital’ package for €50; and weekend readers can settle for a ‘weekend print and digital’ package of the premium digital option with the Saturday hardcopy for €20 a month.
This metered approach echoes that adopted by the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, USA Today, New York Times and LA Times. According to the Associated Press as many as 300 daily titles in the US have pay walls and metering is the most popular way to implement them.
So what’s the payoff? Are we going to see thousands of loyal readers and ex-pats sign up? Is a golden age of reinvestment in journalism around the corner or is this a cash grab by an old media institution? The best case scenario points to an exercise in stabilisation over any other motivation.
According to journalism initiative The Nieman Foundation an average of 3-4% of newspaper website readers get as far as their maximum allotted articles and only .5% of readers take out a paid subscription after. Transferring this logic to the Irish Times, according to Google Analytics figures irishtimes.com attracts 5.4 million unique visitors per month. This could translate into a commercial base of 27,000 subscribers paying a minimum of €12 a month.
Will the Irish Times crack the paid content nut? International form would say this is a calculated risk. What will be interesting from an analytics perspective is now the IT will be able to see which of their writers people will use up their allowance reading. If you see any new faces over the coming weeks it may be no accident.