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Guesstimating the Times’s online readership: 46,154

Several people have tried to work out how many people are paying to get into the pawalled Times website. My estimate (first published here) is: 46,154 a day.

To come up with this figure, I compared how many people commented on two stories – one on the Times site (now paywalled) and one on the Guardian. The screenshot, below, taken at 1.45pm yesterday, shows the Times with 4 comments in 2 hours. The Guardian, on a similar but slightly later story, had 117 comments in 90 minutes.

So if we multiply the number of readers of the Guardian’s website – 1.8 million a day according to the ABCes – by 4/117 (the ratio of comments on each story) and by 90/120 (because the Times story had been online longer) we get:

1,800,000 x (4/117) x (90/120) = 46,154 readers.Times paywall numbers

Assumptions …

Obviously, 46,154 is a slightly spurious level of accuracy …

Propensity to comment

It’s unlikely that the same proportion of readers comment on Times stories as Guardian ones. But as the Times seems to have deleted comments from its old pre-paywall stories, I couldn’t see how many comments Times stories got pre-paywall compared to the Guardian.

Growth of comments over time

Comments probably don’t increase in a linear way over time – but comparing stories after 90 minutes and 2 hours seems close enough.

Comment bait

The stories aren’t exactly the same so may not have motivated people to comment in the same proportions.

But it’s not easy to find stories with the same sort of angle published at the same sort of time and which allow comments. These were the most comparable stories I could find.

Comparing this figure with other estimates

15,000 paying subscribers

This figure of 46,154 is higher than the 15,000 paying subscribers since the paywall went up that Beehivecity claimed over the weekend – but you’d expect this as existing Times+ subscribers (ie those who joined Times+ before the paywall went up) can also access the site. They will count towards daily unique visitors –  but won’t count as extra paying subscribers.

I can’t find a figure for Times+ subscribers, but I have this vague memory of about 60,000-odd of those. This story, from October 2009, claims Culture+, a version of TImes+, “has attracted 90,000 active members” (whatever “active members” means).

Either way,  if you subscribe to The Times newspaper 7 days a week, you get free access to the websites. So all this would explain why there are more than 15,000 daily viewers of The Times paywalled sites – because  people are getting it free as part of their other subscription packages.

2/3 drop

The FT, on the other hand, reported at the weekend that:

Visits to The Times’ website have dropped by two-thirds in the weeks since News International, the media group controlled by Rupert Murdoch, began to implement its paywall strategy, according to new data.

However, the decline has been gentler than the 90 per cent fall in traffic some researchers expected.

Now, 1.2 million readers used Times Online a day according to the last ABCes before it pulled out – so if its traffic had dropped by 90% it would be looking at 120,000 a day.

But even this figures sound too high to me, knowing what else we know. And Hitwise’s figures seem a bit odd – the last lot in particular failed to distinguish between home page traffic and those that gone any further beyond the paywall.

So what do you think? I wrote once that, if anyone can charge for content, Murdoch can. But maybe even he can’t ..,

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