Times and Sunday Times readership falls after paywall

Sunday Times newspaper van The Times newspapers went behind an online paywall four months ago

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More than 100,000 people have paid to go behind the Times and Sunday Times' new online paywalls but visits to their websites have fallen by about 87%.

Times Online was registering about 21 million unique users a month to its front page earlier this year but the figure fell to 2.7 million last month.

The papers said in addition 100,000 people had a joint subscription to read the newspapers in print and digitally.

Times editor James Harding said the papers were "hugely encouraged".

Publishers of the Times and Sunday Times have revealed for the first time how many people are paying to read their newspapers online or on mobiles. They said that figures stood at 105,000.

The subscription figures have been eagerly awaited by publishers and advertisers since the two papers went behind an online paywall four months ago.

The figure for unique users for their websites comprises two million for the Times and 700,000 for the Sunday Times.

BBC media correspondent Torin Douglas said many people in the industry had been sceptical about the paywall move, and that there would be intense analysis and debate over the significance of the figures.

'Suicidal economics'

Times executives said they had expected to lose 90% of the papers' online readers when they started charging £2 a week, or £9.99 for a four-week iPad subscription.

Start Quote

The real test... is whether it will deliver more revenue than was available to the papers when their content was freely available online”

End Quote Rory Cellan-Jones BBC technology correspondent

Mr Harding told the BBC: "It's very early days but we're hugely encouraged by what we've seen.

"We're seeing that those people who are reading the digital editions of the Times and the Sunday Times really like them, if they sign up for a trial they tend to stick with us.

"We'd engaged in a quite suicidal form of economics - which was giving our journalism away for free. We knew that if we continued to do that we couldn't invest in reporting.

"Our concern was would we be cut off from the 'internet conversation', and the truth is we haven't been."

'Very pleased'

The publishers now say the total paid audience so far is close to 200,000, allowing for duplications in subscriptions.

About 50,000 are paying a monthly subscription, either for the website editions or to read the papers on an iPad or Kindle. Many others are buying a £1 day pass.

The figures include subscribers to the print version of the papers who receive an online subscription as a result.

Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of Rupert Murdoch's News International, said: "We are very pleased by the response to our new digital services.

"These figures very clearly show that large numbers of people are willing to pay for quality journalism in digital formats."

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