A strange article in NMA today tells us that by putting up a new paywall at News of the World the website has lost just 40% of its traffic - down from 1.56m unique visitors in September to 0.96m last month. That's a remarkable outcome when the rule of thumb for newspapers putting up a paywall is to lose at least 90% of their traffic. What's so different here?
However, as Beehivecity pointed out a week ago, the News of the World paywall went up on October 14th, about halfway through the month. In reality the paywall cost the site 40% of its monthly users in just two weeks. Furthermore, in the months following the erection of a paywall, comScore's visitor figures become...not quite inaccurate but certainly misleading, as they record as a visitor anyone who arrives at the site (once) expecting to be able to browse the content, discovers the paywall barrier and departs never to return. That "bounce" is as much a visitor as the loyalist who actually stumps up a pound to look at 24 photos of Kate Moss which are, let's face it, really very similar to the photos of Kate Moss available everywhere else. The number of real visitors - ie those who go on from the paywall barrier to actually look at the site - will be far, far lower.
If the headline figure of "unique users down 40%" doesn't tell the real story, what would tell us how badly the paywall has hit News of the World's traffic figures? Normally, the key figure is the change in page impressions over time - not mean average page impressions per user or average dwell times (which could easily be about the same as they were before the wall went up, with the people actually using the site bringing up that average by flicking through dozens of pages of photos). NMA doesn't quote the previous month's number (and its articles that might have are, ahem, behind a paywall), but happily Beehivecity does. Page impressions (presumably UK-only) fell from 14m in September to 7m in October.
Which means that far from losing only 40% of its traffic, News of the World has shed somewhere between 80% (user metric) and 100% (page metric) of its audience by putting up its paywall. Which is much as one would expect, and more proof, if more is needed, that almost no-one will pay for news and that News Corp's strategy for putting its UK newspapers behind a wall really isn't about monetising those newspapers.
(Photo from fkf on Flickr)