Guesstimating the Times's online readership: 46,154

Several people have tried to work out how many people are paying to get into the pawalled Times website. My estimate (first published here) is: 46,154 a day. Update: Tom Whitwell, assistant editor of the Times, says in the comments on the original that this figure “*spectacularly* underestimates” the actual number of visitors to the new site.

To come up with this figure, I compared how many people commented on two stories – one on the Times site (now paywalled) and one on the Guardian. The screenshot, below, taken at 1.45pm yesterday, shows the Times with 4 comments in 2 hours. The Guardian, on a similar but slightly later story, had 117 comments in 90 minutes.

So if we multiply the number of readers of the Guardian’s website – 1.8 million a day according to the ABCes – by 4/117 (the ratio of comments on each story) and by 90/120 (because the Times story had been online longer) we get:

1,800,000 x (4/117) x (90/120) = 46,154 readers.Times paywall numbers

Assumptions …

Obviously, 46,154 is a slightly spurious level of accuracy …

Propensity to comment

It’s unlikely that the same proportion of readers comment on Times stories as Guardian ones. But as the Times seems to have deleted comments from its old pre-paywall stories, I couldn’t see how many comments Times stories got pre-paywall compared to the Guardian.

Growth of comments over time

Comments probably don’t increase in a linear way over time – but comparing stories after 90 minutes and 2 hours seems close enough.

Comment bait

The stories aren’t exactly the same so may not have motivated people to comment in the same proportions.

But it’s not easy to find stories with the same sort of angle published at the same sort of time and which allow comments. These were the most comparable stories I could find.

Comparing this figure with other estimates

15,000 paying subscribers

This figure of 46,154 is higher than the 15,000 paying subscribers since the paywall went up that Beehivecity claimed over the weekend – but you’d expect this as existing Times+ subscribers (ie those who joined Times+ before the paywall went up) can also access the site. They will count towards daily unique visitors –  but won’t count as extra paying subscribers.

I can’t find a figure for Times+ subscribers, but I have this vague memory of about 60,000-odd of those. This story, from October 2009, claims Culture+, a version of TImes+, “has attracted 90,000 active members” (whatever “active members” means).

Either way,  if you subscribe to The Times newspaper 7 days a week, you get free access to the websites. So all this would explain why there are more than 15,000 daily viewers of The Times paywalled sites – because  people are getting it free as part of their other subscription packages.

2/3 drop

The FT, on the other hand, reported at the weekend that:

Visits to The Times’ website have dropped by two-thirds in the weeks since News International, the media group controlled by Rupert Murdoch, began to implement its paywall strategy, according to new data.

However, the decline has been gentler than the 90 per cent fall in traffic some researchers expected.

Now, 1.2 million readers used Times Online a day according to the last ABCes before it pulled out – so if its traffic had dropped by 90% it would be looking at 120,000 a day.

But even this figures sound too high to me, knowing what else we know. And Hitwise’s figures seem a bit odd – the last lot in particular failed to distinguish between home page traffic and those that gone any further beyond the paywall.

So what do you think? I wrote once that, if anyone can charge for content, Murdoch can. But maybe even he can’t ..,

3 thoughts on “Guesstimating the Times's online readership: 46,154

  1. Peter Demain

    Paywalling was always suspect as being a non-starter. I never thought it would fly myself, since newspapers make most of their revenue from ads. As we know most newspapers cost more to produce than they sell for at the stands; especially weekend ones with expensive colour supplements.

    Money has for a long time – even before Murdoch and others declined the trade to the unhealthy state it is in now – been recouped through adverts in the paper. It gets to the point where you have columns squashed in flanked by adverts on three sides – so much so that you might miss a nice little tale because of how unobvious the piece is next to a big Marks and Spencer food ad or an Apple ad with an oh-so-pretty gadget on it.

    Newspapers aren’t Cable TV. They’re bundles of text, closer to a book than anything motion. So whilst modern TV can keep our low-attention span consumers accepting of ads to the point where they’ll happily pay for a Cable package in bulk and have ads accosting eyeballs for minutes on end…papers don’t have that luxury.

    Not to mention that the news is easily available elsewhere, the decline of quality (Times today compared to 1970 is laughably bad) together with the hassle of registering, putting in a credit card number and all that for something that’s going to be on BBC News at 6 or in your local newsagents anyway.

    I can’t fathom why you thought Rupie could pull this off. He’s an intelligent man, but mainly in a cunning fashion – insofar as seeing the wood behind the trees he isn’t as good at that. If he wants to squeeze a person or single government he can and has pulled that off for decades with success frequent. Online media are where his victories up to now have come to an abrupt end. Perhaps with age and power he’s gained some modicum of conceit or cocksureness, and indeed his out-of-touch comments on MySpace which he owns but has lost popularity to Facebook and others imply this.

    By the way Martin – this isn’t really news I know – Rupie ain’t interested in old school work. Historical pieces, interviews at length with members of the public rather than tiny quotes – all not his cup of tea. Working for months to break a story is not worth it unless we’ve exceptional circumstances. You’ll get the stock comment ‘the Guardian/Times/other has carried out a six month investigation into…’ – But you and I know that’s bollocks. I remember when the Guardian nicked a story Private Eye broke six weeks earlier and used this lie as an attempt to gain credence. Any lazy arse who does that isn’t worthy of being on a salary; but that we’ve thousands who are similar is just ‘how journalism works’ to paraphrase Hislop’s mag.

    Insight this is not. I’d never wish death on a man, but I will not mourn for Murdoch and do hope he retires within 5 years. He isn’t a ‘dinosaur’ because unlike any other person pejorotively labeled with that moniker he hasn’t lost influence or poignency over the past decade in the ink and paper media which was always his mainstay. Yeah he’s well over 70, but there are more and more elderly people with influence they use with expertise built over decades.

    Martin could you voice your take on the man which led to your doubting whether paywalling would fail or not?

    Pete @

  2. Peter Demain

    My above opinion article comment was just adapted and slightly extended into a post over at news blog Dirty Garnet. Comments are owned by the poster not Ben himself on this non-paywalled media site yeah? Hah.


  3. Pingback: When digital works « The ContentETC Blog

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