The Times and the economics of online news

The Times

In 2010 The Times decided to bring their website content fully behind a hard paywall. While the paywall has undoubtedly limited their reach, traffic isn’t the only measure of success for a strong brand like The Times. With the reputation of The Times they are allowed to have a different business model than many of their traditional competitors. Subscriber revenues are more consistent and predictable than revenue streams of advertising – thus making subscribers their main focus.

If breaking news has become a commodity in the abundance of news sites providing just that, The Times creates value for itself and its readers by focusing on stories that stand out and make them different. Now content on the site as well as on tablet and phone apps is featured in editions that are updated four times a day. There is an early morning issue, an update at 9am, at noon and at 5pm. All those points pick up readers where traffic usually spikes during the day.

Registered Access Model

Catherine Newman, chief marketing officer, lays out the plans to stop giving away content for free to protect their biggest driver of revenue: subscriptions. She sees growth coming from their recently launched registered access model. This gives “viable leads” access to two articles per week. Users have to be registered to be considered a viable lead.

“The best way for us to market ourselves is by allowing people to have access to our content and our content is the best out there,” says Newman

Times access

The way they do that is by giving more access to their content but only to those viable leads which is a challenge. However, their most exclusive content is still kept from non-paying subscribers. In a time of political turmoil where quality journalism and investigative reporting is crucial to an informed society, the Times protects its most high-profile, subscription-driving articles under this model. Their interview with then President-elect Donald Trump is one example.

Charge the value you bring

Differentiating value by platform doesn’t make sense. Articles on digital probably goes to more people who may spend even more time reading it than on print.

“You should be charging based on the value that you think the content is worth,” Newman points out. 

The challenge for her as a marketer was to get more people into their content while safeguarding what they think the value is, she points out further. This seemed to be fruitful. While prices went up by 20p to £ 1.40 for a weekday edition, the Times boosted its print circulation by 12% from last year.

Going international

Catherine Newman claims that the Times already has a significant number of subscribers outside of their home market and she wants to further investigate this source of readers. Internationalization has worked well for the Guardian. In September last year 63% of the newspaper’s unique users came from outside the UK and the Guardian has seen strong growth on the US and Australian market.

New sources of income

The Times is also exploring alternative sources of income, spreading out its offerings. Taking learnings from its affiliated paper The Sun which dropped its paywall and has since focused on creating new revenue streams, such as Sun Bets and its fantasy football league Dream Team. Newman suggests spreading out towards new newsletters and podcasts which are seen as engagement drivers. The Times doesn’t have to worry too much about considering