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.

Arsène Wenger. Credit: Getty
Show Hide image

My biggest regret of the Wenger era? How we, the fans, treated him at the end

Arsenal’s greatest coach deserved better treatment from the Club’s supporters. 

I have no coherent memories of Arsenal before Arsène Wenger, who will leave the Club at the end of the season. I am aware of the Club having a new manager, but my continuous memories of my team are of Wenger at the helm.

They were good years to remember: three league titles, seven FA Cups, the most of any single manager in English football. He leaves the Club as the most successful manager in its history.

I think one of the reasons why in recent years he has taken a pasting from Arsenal fans is that the world before him now seems unimaginable, and not just for those of us who can't really remember it. As he himself once said, it is hard to go back to sausages when you are used to caviar, and while the last few years cannot be seen as below par as far as the great sweep of Arsenal’s history goes, they were below par by the standards he himself had set. Not quite sausages, but not caviar either.

There was the period of financial restraint from 2005 onwards, in which the struggle to repay the cost of a new stadium meant missing out on top player. A team that combined promising young talent with the simply bang-average went nine years without a trophy. Those years had plenty of excitement: a 2-1 victory over Manchester United with late, late goals from Robin van Persie and Thierry Henry, a delicious 5-2 thumping of Tottenham Hotspur, and races for the Champions League that went to the last day. It was a time that seemed to hold the promise a second great age of Wenger once the debt was cleared. But instead of a return to the league triumphs of the past, Wenger’s second spree of trophy-winning was confined to the FA Cup. The club went from always being challenging for the league, to always finishing in the Champions League places, to struggling to finish in the top six. Again, nothing to be sniffed at, but short of his earlier triumphs.

If, as feels likely, Arsenal’s dire away form means the hunt for a Uefa Cup victory ends at Atletico Madrid, many will feel that Wenger missed a trick in not stepping down after his FA Cup triumph over Chelsea last year, in one of the most thrilling FA Cup Finals in years. (I particularly enjoyed this one as I watched it with my best man, a Chelsea fan.) 

No one could claim that this season was a good one, but the saddest thing for me was not the turgid performances away from home nor the limp exit from the FA Cup, nor even finishing below Tottenham again. It was hearing Arsenal fans, in the world-class stadium that Wenger built for us, booing and criticising him.

And I think, that, when we look back on Wenger’s transformation both of Arsenal and of English football in general, more than whether he should have called it a day a little earlier, we will wonder how Arsenal fans could have forgotten the achievements of a man who did so much for us.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.