Why The Times’ paywall ‘success’ could be great news for social media agencies

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Today’s big story is that The Times has unveiled the numbers of subscribers to its website and iPad editions, and it seems to be quite good news for newspapers in general and Rupert Murdoch in particular.

http://www.wallblog.co.uk/2010/11/02/news-international-says-it-has-105000-di…

Apparently the the overall number of those who have paid something to read digital content since July is 105,000 for The Times and Sunday Times, which includes sales for the iPad and Kindle. Half of that figure are subscribers with the rest made up of people who taken advantage of the various offers and dipped behind the paywall.

Overall it is good news for The Times. It may only boast a fraction of the traffic that it acheived pre-paywall, but it is clear that there are people who will pay for online content. In theory at least that number will grow as print dwindles and users get accustomed to paying for online content.

We should be a little cautious about the figures though.

For example I may be counted twice – once for a free iPad sub and a second for the day I subscribed for a day pass. If I am typical then NI certainly isn’t generating a lot of income.

I do think the figures will encourage other publishers to experiment with paywalls and we will see more media brands establishing themselves as paid content online companies.

So why is this good for social media agencies? Well if more and more publishers find that the paywall works as a business model then there will be less free content online. The number of people paying/subscribing will only be a tiny fraction of the people who were using the sites before. Publishers will be happy because they are making money, but their online influence will decline dramatically. From a brand’s perspective that could make it far less essential to talk to journalists and much more important to talk to larger numbers of people directly – via social media.

Once again this presents a huge opportunity for publishers and brands who champion the open web as they will be be able to attract many more users than publishers who use the paywall.

At Sutro we believe that there is a great opportunity for brands to establish themselves as content companies. The success of the paywall makes this task even more attractive, and in a bizarre way, slightly easier.

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