Murdoch's online audience drops away as paywall time approaches

It’s approaching crunch time for News International and its brave, some would say foolhardy, attempt to get people to pay for viewing the Times and the Sunday Times online.

According to Experian Hitwise, since the company introduced registration and separate sites for the two titles, their combined share of UK internet visits to news and media websites has nearly halved, falling from 4.37% to 2.67% in just four weeks.

And this was just the initial damage. Since the company started redirecting users from the old combined site to the two titles’ new individual sites, the combined share has dropped even further to 1.81%.

With payment-only access due to start in the next few weeks, News International looks to be in for a rocky ride.

As if trying to get people to pay for what they expect to get free weren’t tough enough, the boys in Wapping have made the problem even worse by their clunky redesign of the websites, trying to bring back the look and format of papers’ print pages.

By now everyone is accustomed to the distinctive formats of web news pages, whether from the Telegraph, the Guardian, the Mail or of course the old timesonline site itself. The new designs look cramped, boring and decidedly user-unfriendly. No doubt Rupert Murdoch’s people have got the iPad in mind but will the pages look any better on Apple’s new icon?

With the Telegraph, Guardian, Mail and Mirror groups all posting healthy rises in internet traffic, there’ll be a few chuckles among Rupert’s rivals this weekend.

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About David O'Reilly

David is a former deputy editor of Campaign and writer for a number of leading titles including Management Today and the Sunday Times. He is a partner in The Editorial Partnership.