Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The New York Times thinks it is zeroing in on the paywall sweetspot -- 10 free articles a month

Much Twittering and other commenting about the New York Times cutting in half the free articles ahead of its paywall (to be 10 rather than 20).  Canada takes it in the ear right away; everyone else March 28. All articles, galleries, multimedia and blogs count towards the limit and freebie search engine clicks will be limited to five a day. The Times said:
We think 10 articles a month, plus free access to our home page, strikes a better balance between visiting and subscribing. Most of our readers will continue to enjoy their Times experience without interruption. At the same time, the change provides us with an opportunity to convince another segment of our audience that what The Times has to offer is worth paying for.
 The NYT concurrently announced that it has reached 454,000 paid subscribers to its digital products,and the paper said that the number of non-paid subscribers who have turned over between 10 and 20 pages is relatively small. Other data from other suppliers suggests that the paywall sweet spot can safely be set lower than papers had previously been willing to do -- somewhere between 4 and 9 a month.
The nytimes.com site had about 48 million unique visitors worldwide in January. 
The Times is selling its cheapest online plan (all you can read) for $15 a month.Compare this with the Wall Street Journal at $8. Whether the price point is inexpensive enough and the perceived value high enough to convince regular visitors to ante up is an open question. Probably, it is.
Steven Brill, who runs RR Donnelley's Press+ metered access solution for newspapers, was quoted by Poynter.org saying that maybe 1% of readers will "hit the meter" and 20% will pay. A metered system that takes such facts into account means that publishers don't have to make a hard-edged choice between free and fully paid access. Brill says the sweet spot can be defined as where readers "are not angry, not surprised" about being asked to pay. 
There is a significant difference between the NYT and a mid-sized consumer magazine, however, and nobody should take this as a license to reinforce their paywall just yet.

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