The Times and its sister paper, The Sunday Times, could lose more than 90 per cent of their online audience when they introduce charges to read their websites next month, research has found.
The study, to be published on Wednesday by Wiggin, a media law firm, came as News International’s newspapers unveiled their redesigned websites before the first big test of charging consumers for online news.
In a survey of 1,592 people in the UK this month by Entertainment Media Research, more than 90 per cent said they were unwilling to pay £1 a day or £2 a week, the pricing planned by the Times newspapers, to access a range of news websites.
More people said they would rather pay for BBC online news than the nine newspaper sites they were questioned on. Asked about TimesOnline, the newspaper’s existing website, 9 per cent said they would pay.
If the weekly price for online news were set at £1, more than half said they would consider the price “reasonable”, although the survey did not ask if they would then pay.
Executives at The Times said they expected a significant fall in online readership but hope that subscription payments will generate more revenues than advertising on the free model, which suffered acutely in the recession.
“It is time to stop giving our journalism away,” James Harding, editor of The Times, told the BBC on Tuesday.
However, some publishers, including Daily Mail & General Trust and Future, have expressed scepticism on whether readers would pay for general news, particularly while other outlets, such as the BBC, remain free.
“ Readers will not pay to consume general news on the web,” Martin Clarke, publisher of Mail Digital, told a DMGT investor day in April.
The Times has simplified and decluttered its site, surrounding stories with generous amounts of white space.
“It looks a lot like a newspaper, which I don’t think we’re apologising for,” said Tom Whitwell, assistant editor of The Times.
When charging begins, in about four weeks, The Times’ stories will no longer be visible in search engine results, which were usually the biggest source of traffic for any website.
Douglas McCabe, an analyst at Enders, said the Times sites were likely to attract a lot of initial interest from curious readers.
“It will probably kick off with a reasonable amount of traffic because there’s a lot of people with a pound to play with,” said Mr McCabe. “But it’s what [the traffic] looks like in six months’ time that matters.”
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