From now on, access to the sites will cost £1 per day, or £2 per week – although in an introductory offer, all customers will be allowed 30 days access for just £1. The iPad edition is charged separately.
Announcing the move in an email to staff, Rebekah Brooks, NI ceo said: “We have been very pleased with the response from readers since the sites were launched in May. They both showcase our award-winning journalism in a very visual way, giving readers exclusive content and interactivity so that they can get even more from the news. We believe that they offer real value and we look forward to continuing to innovate for our readers.’
Initial evidence suggests that the level of use that the sites have attracted since they went behind a registration wall has been better than naysayers expected.
Both sites are completely new designs – and freed from the constraints of search engine optimisation, they are generally considered to be a success by users. They certainly look good, and have far more intuitive navigation structures than did the old timesonline site. One report suggested that pre registration wall timesonline attracted 4.7% of UK internet visits (in the week ending 22 May), and that the new sites are attracting 2.67 in the week ending 19 June.
Both include the content from the print editions, with some enrichment in the form of videos and additional pictures. Both sites also include some web-only content (being contributed by me, among others).
Speaking informally, some company insiders have previously suggested that they expected to retain just 4% of the users who were previously using timesonline. That means a drop from the 18m unique visitors a month that the old site attracted, to something more like 750,000 subscribers. If they managed that it would create income of nearly double what The Guardian claims to be making from advertising on its site at the moment.
Just as important, if the sites are a success, it will give News International a direct financial relationship with a vast swath of its customers for the first time. The value of that, the company believes, goes well beyond the initial revenue. Murdoch is taking a huge gamble – but when you consider the prize at stake, it is easy to see why.