The Paywall Problem

Another day, another step closer to the coming age of the newspaper paywall in Ireland. Here’s PriceWaterhouseCoopers making self assured statements on the impending digital bonanza.

As the money they can charge for ads (and the number of ads) sags the Irish newspapers have become addicted to talking about, and preparing for, the crock of gold that charging their readers seems to represent.

So, what will happen when the day comes?

Well, the experience of other major news brand paywalls suggests they will lose 90% of their readers overnight.

For the Times of London, that meant they went from about 1.2 million visitors a day to around 100,000.

Here in Ireland, Comscore figures for Dec 2012 showed the Irish Times had 628,000 visitors a month. Using the 90% rule of thumb, we can expect that to fall to approx 62,800 per month. Or, if you prefer, an average of about 2,098 visitors a day.

Using the same basic formula, the Irish Independent’s website can expect 91,900 unique monthly readers 3,063 (and a third) daily readers, post-paywall.

If those numbers come to pass, the Irish newspapers are basically embracing oblivion as a national voice online.

Ironically, this week’s purchase of The Washington Post by Jeff Bezos suggests that by giving up their influence, they may be throwing aside the one thing they have that people still want.

UPDATE: Numbers, numbers. They fascinate me but I should know by now I can’t touch them without getting burnt.

As patiently explained to me (repeatedly, as I couldn’t understand it the first few times) my figures for projected unique monthly readers are likely accurate. But when I divided them by 30 to get a daily readership, I erred. ( I’m paraphrasing. They may have used words other than erred)

Basically, this would only work if all paying subscribers to these websites only read them once a month. This seems an unlikely assumption to make.

So, to recap, unique monthly readers still likely to be down 90% but daily reader numbers impossible to predict without knowing what proportion of subscribers typically read daily.

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