Felix Salmon

More NYT paywall math

By Felix Salmon
January 23, 2010

Gabriel Snyder does his own math, and comes to exactly the same conclusion as both me and Erick Schonfeld: optimistically speaking, the NYT is likely to make no more than about $35 million a year from a nytimes.com paywall — a small fraction of its digital advertising revenues. Has anybody come up with a bigger number than that?

I’m not sure what to make of this, though, from Snyder:

Quantcast’s estimate of NYTimes.com traffic includes a breakdown of how often each of those users are actually visiting the site. Like most sites, the Times has a tiny core, just 1% or 170,000 users, who visit the site more than one time per day or 30 times a month.

Interestingly, in order to get to his $34 million figure, Snyder has to have double that number of people paying $100 a year. But here’s the thing: the NYT has 800,000 paying subscribers already — and the paper has said that they will have free access to the website whatever happens. One big question, then, is the degree of overlap between the most loyal core of nytimes.com readers, on the one hand, and the equally-loyal, and larger, group of NYT print subscribers, on the other. If just 25% of the NYT’s print subscribers visit the website daily, that’s all of the website’s most loyal visitors right there!

So while the maximum upside to implementing a paywall is $35 million or so in annual subscription revenues, the minimum upside is zero. I don’t actually think that the number of daily nytimes.com readers is as low as 170,000, and I do think that the NYT should somehow be able to make at least as much money out of its new paywall as it did from TimesSelect — something on the order of $10 million a year. But given the number of stories that the NYT is going to give away to every reader for free, that’s by no means a foregone conclusion.

2 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

Basic rule of business: revenue models emerge early, or not at all.

Paywalls have generally failed for 10 years. It’s irrational to expect the same effort to yield a different result this time.

The only Web news success stories are single-subject verticals with captive reporting staff, e.g. Consumer Reports and the Wall Street Journal. Generalists and AP resellers are all dying. The Times can really only survive by going vertical, e.g. politics, and being the last survivor with its own reporting team.

Why is this not obvious to the industry?

Posted by gemfinder | Report as abusive

While I don’t disagree, I think there’s one clear flaw in our logic: It assumes that the online news industry will look relatively similar in the future. If you expect the industry to see slow gradual change, the NYT’s proposal is dead.

The only way I see this making sense is if there is a fallout in the news industry and publications start either dieing or going behind the paywall en mass. That could, and I emphasize, could, mean that people start paying up for news at at least one site because there’s no other way to get it.

In other words, it’s a cynical play.

Posted by aengblom | Report as abusive

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