New York Times Paywall Observations

Posted on 20 Jul 2011 in Newspaper Support Group | 6 comments

As a result of The New York Times paywall, Quantcast shows traffic is down from about 20 million uniques to a bit under 16 million uniques and page views have dropped from about 150 million to around 120 million. While Quantcast is estimating traffic and not measuring it directly, this is a fast downward trend for the paper of record.

The New York Times knew they’d lose traffic by implementing their paywall, but what do the numbers really show?

Uniques are dropping at the same percentage as pageviews. They’ve lost about 20% of their uniques and 20% of their pageviews. This belies a very serious problem. The promise of the paywall was that while pageviews would drop since people would hit the paywall limit, uniques should have stayed about the same since users have twenty free articles to take advantage of.

There a few options for why this might be:

1. Uniques are down because people are afraid to spend their pageview quota going so far as to not go at all in a month.

2. People are seeking sources for their news on sites that don’t charge at all.

It seems to suggest that in a short period of time, The New York Times has sacrificed their influence (and this was in the period of Anthony Wiener blowing up his career, which was both a salacious local and national story).

The Amazon Comparison

When Amazon announced free shipping for most products in 2001, it was a huge deal. Sales jumped across the board except for one country where it turned out that due to a rounding error, shipping remained some tiny nominal fee. That tiny fee kept sales exactly the same. They removed the fee and sales jumped to match the performance of every other nation.

The New York Times faces a similar problem. Users are clearly afraid to go to their site. Is this story really important enough for me to click on it? What if something I need to read about happens next week? What if I’m already at my limit? It’s a mental tax. Four million people last month who ordinarily would have visited just didn’t show up. And that had nothing to do with people hitting their paywall limit. Like Amazon, a small tax has a large suppressive effect.

At OwnLocal, we’ve maintained for some time that there are better solutions than paywalls. This apparent drop in online readership confirms it. Attention and audience are worth money and at best this is a game that results in a much less influential news organization. Other newspapers need to be very careful following this path. Most don’t have the clout or the truly serious reporting that the Times does. If The New York Times hasn’t figured this out yet, there’s absolutely no sense in following their example.


  1. David T. Macknet / July 21st, 2011 20:25

    For me it has very little with limits. I simply hit the pay-wall and say, “nah, I wasn’t that interested in reading the story, and it’ll come again via some other agency anyway.” NYT just isn’t that special, and doesn’t provide anything worth going through all of the trouble of logging in to read it.

    In fact, I’ve begun simply avoiding clicking on links which lead to NYT because I know that in most cases I’ll hit that pay-wall and it will require that I identify myself (thank you, target marketers), first of all, and that it takes away from my quality reading time to go through the extra trouble to get at their “news.” They don’t have much in the way of original content; I can get the same story from a dozen other sources; and they seem to think that they’re special when most of their news is simply a regurgitation of what’s come over the AP wire.

    If they had quality stories which were full of analysis which was unavailable elsewhere, well, maybe I’d consider it. The problem, though, is that they’ve cut back on the quality and seem to think that people will pay to read the story on their site. They need to prove that there’s a good reason to read something they’ve written. Until then, though, they’re just another outlet for the same old news, the only difference being that they seem to think that they should be able to identify me and/or make me pay for content.


  2. Douglas Burke / July 21st, 2011 20:59

    You hit it right on the head. I love the Times but don’t want to use up my limit too soon. As a result I just don’t visit like I used to.

    At least give me a ticker for what i have used. I think they only tell you when you have 5 left.


  3. Jeff / July 21st, 2011 22:07

    Since you can still view unlimited content by simply clearing your cookies it hasn’t affected by viewing patterns one iota. (I also clear flash cookies.)

    In fact I’m more surprised by how shoddy their approach has been. They should require registration/login at a minimum to ever hope to make this workable.


  4. rfk / July 22nd, 2011 5:06

    If you don’t want to clear your cookies, just Google the article’s title, and click on the Google News link (not the Google Web link) for the article.The Google News referrer-URL will bypass the paywall.


  5. the hacker news / September 30th, 2011 18:24

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