‘Times of London’ Digital Subs Top 100,000

But digital gains come alongside print declines

The Times of London and its Sunday Times are crowing that their digital subscriptions have topped 100,000 one year after Rupert Murdoch’s papers started charging for online access, even as print circulation plummets.

News International has been one of the most bullish publishers in adopting an online pay model, and its venture has been one of the most closely watched experiments among media watchers in the past year as the publishing industry tries to figure out how to extract more revenue from their content. Skeptics have questioned how successful a general-news outlet will be in charging for its content when there’s so much free news available.

The paywall also has come at a traffic cost. Since the papers’ sites went behind it in May 2010, unique visitors to the two sites fell off to 1.6 million in July 2010 from 2.8 million, to the frustration of some advertisers.

Rebekah Brooks, CEO of News International, acknowledged the disbelievers, saying in a statement, “Many doubted if our digital strategy would be successful. Here is unequivocal proof it is moving in that direction.”

The digital subscriber figure includes users across the papers’ websites as well as the iPad and the Kindle. It represents an increase of 28 percent since February, when digital subscribers totaled 79,000.

All told, the Times has more than 250,000 print/digital subscribers and digital-only subscribers, which represents more than half the Times’ print circulation.

But the paywall increase also comes at a time when the paper is losing money on the print side. The Times recently had the biggest circulation falloff of any nontabloid British paper, raising the questions of whether the digital subscribers are simply print readers migrating online, and if the revenue from the digital subs has been enough to offset what the Times is losing in print.

The Times and The Sunday Times charges approximately $3 (£2) a week for a digital subscription, which includes the iPad app. The iPad apps are also available directly from the iTunes store.