The successes and failures of the Times’s paywall

The paper has won 50,000 digital subscribers but print sales have continued to fall.

The best-guarded secret in Wapping is finally out: the Times paywall figures. News International announced this morning that 105,000 people have paid to access the site since the paper went behind a paywall in July.

The 105,000 customers have been erroneously described by some as "online subscribers", a label which ignores the fact that a significant number were one-off users. Here is a detailed breakdown of the figures:

105,000 have paid to access the site in any form.

Around 50,000 of this total are monthly subscribers to the website/iPad/Kindle edition.

The rest are one-off users or pay-as-you-go customers.

In addition, 100,000 print subscribers have activated their free digital subscription.

These figures are far from catastrophic, and with the launch of the Sunday Times app still to come, Wapping executives are in a bullish mood this morning.

Dan Sabbagh, the Guardian's new head of media and technology (and former media editor of the Times), suggests a notional figure of £12m a year in revenue if you assume that the average customer pays about £10 a month.

He explains: "The full price for online is £2 a week, so less than £10, but the iPad buyer pays a bit more forking out £9.99 for a little less than most months at 28 days."

But in many ways a better measure of the success of the paywall is not numbers of web subscribers, but print sales. Rupert Murdoch is more concerned with pushing people back to his papers than he is with successfully charging for digital content.

As his biographer Michael Wolff has written:

The more he can choke off the internet as a free news medium, the more publishers he can get to join him, the more people he can bring back to his papers. It is not a war he can win in the long term, but a little Murdoch rearguard action might get him to his own retirement. Then it's somebody else's problem.

Print sales of the Times stood at 503,642 in June (the month before the launch of the paywall), but the ABC figures for September put sales at 486,868. So, even though the paper's content is no longer freely available online, print sales have continued to fall.

It's a reminder that websites alone are not responsible for the long-term decline of print. Other factors, such as the rise of 24-hour TV news and more hectic lifestyles, have also hit sales.

As an attempt to establish a reliable online revenue stream, the Times's paywall experiment should be judged cautiously as a success. As an attempt to salvage print and to push back the tide of free news, however, the move has so far failed.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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