Why The Times' drop in traffic is good for news

Rivals were today crowing about a decline in traffic to The Times newspaper's website since parent company News Corp introduced a paywall - but if anything, figures released today by US market research company comScore represent a triumph for Rupert Murdoch's pay-to-read project.

According to comScore, the number of unique visitors to The Times Online fell from 2.2 million in June to 1.61 million in July - a drop of 27 per cent.

Compulsory registration introduced at the beginning of June had seen site traffic fall from 2.79 million unique users the month before, when The Times and its sister paper, The Sunday Times were split into separate sites. But at 43 per cent, even that total decline is nothing like the 90-odd per cent slide being predicted by doomsayers.

The Times's new pay-to-read revenue stream costs users £1 a day for one-off access, or £1 for a month, followed by £2 a week thereafter.

With readers declaring themselves happy to pay for what journalists write, we can maybe look forward to a little less click-baiting, Google-optimised, aggregator-friendly fodder... and a little more news.

But even leaving that aside, those predicting an imminent demise for The Times are forgetting that paper still enjoys advertising revenues from its still-substantial audience of 1.6 million unique users - and if Murdoch's earlier pronouncements are anything to go on, News Corp hopes to charge more money per ad click from those advertisers because its new audience is more precisely targeted. Not to mention the fact that they've already demonstrated themselves willing to pay for stuff...

It's a move that has been successfully attempted by more specialist titles such as the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal, which is also owned by Murdoch - but the project of taking a mainstream national newspaper behind a paywall appeared an exercise in the unthinkable.

Last month, US media columnist Michael Wolff suggested on media-watching site Newser that The Times's paywall was causing users to desert the site in droves.

"My sources say that not only is nobody subscribing to the website, but subscribers to the paper itself-who have free access to the site-are not going beyond the registration page," he said. "It's an empty world."

But by 3 August, Murdoch - who had remained tight-lipped about the success of News Corp's experiment - came out to proclaim the paywall a success.

Speaking to The Australian newspaper (which he also owns), Murdoch proclaimed: "Subscriber levels are strong. We are witnessing the start of a new business model for the Internet. The argument that information wants to be free is only said by those who want it for free."

It remains to be seen how many of those online subscribers will stick around to pay £2 a week for their daily news, but the new comScore figures suggest the Dirty Digger's confidence might just be borne out.