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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I was wrong about Help to Buy - but I'm still glad it's gone

As a mortgage journalist in 2013, I was deeply sceptical of the guarantee scheme. 

If you just read the headlines about Help to Buy, you could be under the impression that Theresa May has just axed an important scheme for first-time buyers. If you're on the left, you might conclude that she is on a mission to make life worse for ordinary working people. If you just enjoy blue-on-blue action, it's a swipe at the Chancellor she sacked, George Osborne.

Except it's none of those things. Help to Buy mortgage guarantee scheme is a policy that actually worked pretty well - despite the concerns of financial journalists including me - and has served its purpose.

When Osborne first announced Help to Buy in 2013, it was controversial. Mortgage journalists, such as I was at the time, were still mopping up news from the financial crisis. We were still writing up reports about the toxic loan books that had brought the banks crashing down. The idea of the Government promising to bail out mortgage borrowers seemed the height of recklessness.

But the Government always intended Help to Buy mortgage guarantee to act as a stimulus, not a long-term solution. From the beginning, it had an end date - 31 December 2016. The idea was to encourage big banks to start lending again.

So far, the record of Help to Buy has been pretty good. A first-time buyer in 2013 with a 5 per cent deposit had 56 mortgage products to choose from - not much when you consider some of those products would have been ridiculously expensive or would come with many strings attached. By 2016, according to Moneyfacts, first-time buyers had 271 products to choose from, nearly a five-fold increase

Over the same period, financial regulators have introduced much tougher mortgage affordability rules. First-time buyers can be expected to be interrogated about their income, their little luxuries and how they would cope if interest rates rose (contrary to our expectations in 2013, the Bank of England base rate has actually fallen). 

A criticism that still rings true, however, is that the mortgage guarantee scheme only helps boost demand for properties, while doing nothing about the lack of housing supply. Unlike its sister scheme, the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, there is no incentive for property companies to build more homes. According to FullFact, there were just 112,000 homes being built in England and Wales in 2010. By 2015, that had increased, but only to a mere 149,000.

This lack of supply helps to prop up house prices - one of the factors making it so difficult to get on the housing ladder in the first place. In July, the average house price in England was £233,000. This means a first-time buyer with a 5 per cent deposit of £11,650 would still need to be earning nearly £50,000 to meet most mortgage affordability criteria. In other words, the Help to Buy mortgage guarantee is targeted squarely at the middle class.

The Government plans to maintain the Help to Buy equity loan scheme, which is restricted to new builds, and the Help to Buy ISA, which rewards savers at a time of low interest rates. As for Help to Buy mortgage guarantee, the scheme may be dead, but so long as high street banks are offering 95 per cent mortgages, its effects are still with us.