Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp has been championing the idea of taking online newspapers behind paywalls, granting unlimited online access only to paid subscribers. While the model has had some success with the Wall Street Journal—owned by News Corp—industry watchers have been skeptical the model can be applied successfully to general interest newspapers. But Murdoch is forging ahead, announcing earlier this year that News Corp would be taking The London Times behind a paywall in June; News Corp is eyeing similar moves for other papers it controls. Now, The Times’ paywall has been up for three weeks…and an analysis in the UK’s The Guardian finds that The Times’ online traffic has plunged some 90 percent compared to figures from February 2010.
The Times itself has not yet announced any readership figures for its online edition.
If the Guardian‘s analysis holds up—similar takes have been published by Dan Sabbah and Michael Wolff—then The Times would seem to be fighting an uphill battle for subscribers, and that by losing so much online readership The Times is suddenly much less appealing to online advertisers. However, many note that three weeks is too short a period to evaluate the effectiveness of a paywall system: the Wall Street Journal has taken many years to build its online presence in to an effective business: instilling the notion that formerly-free content is now available only for a fee could take some time.
Various business models for paywalls have been debated, including versions that offer limited free access (perhaps a set number of items per week or month) and charge only for complete unlimited access. In most models, subscribers to print versions of a paper would get unlimited online access.
News Corp is not the only major player in the newspaper business working on paywalls: The New York Times plans to go behind a paywall in 2011.