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Times, Sunday Times figures plummet after paywall

Rupert Murdoch’s News International has finally released figures for the number of people who have subscribed to its Times and Sunday Times newspaper titles online.

And while they represent a huge drop, they’re not necessarily the disaster naysayers were predicting.

The company, which is the UK publishing subsidiary of Murdoch’s worldwide News Corp, has revealed that between them, the two papers have signed up 50,000 new monthly customers for their online editions, iPad editions, corporate subcriptions and Kindle editions.

The two titles have required users to register to read content since 2nd June, and finally disappeared behind a subscriber-only paywall at the beginning of July.

Between the two titles, News International claims a total of “more than 105,000 customer sales to date”, including every pay-as-you go purchase of a day-pass to online or iPad editions, as well as introductory 30-day £1 trials which were not renewed.

That figure of 105,000 would sound pretty impressive if it represented sales in a given month – but it covers total sales for at least four months. News International has even lumped in “all digital products” – a figure that includes not only the iPad edition, but the Kindle edition, which has been available since 2008.

So with the two titles combined, News International is looking at a total subscriber base of around 26,000 readers a month.

There’s no disguising that’s a massive drop: before the paywall, the two titles were racking up around 20 million unique users a month – more than 13 times larger than the papers’ combined print circulation of 1.5 million.

But as online media pundits PaidContent point out, though, even if all of those subscribers were paying the minimum subscription price of £2 a week for an online edition (billed as £8.67 a month), that means at least £400,000 in revenue. Other editions are considerably more costly, with iPad users paying £9.99 and Kindle owners $22.99.

It’s still early days for Murdoch’s great paywall experiment, but on these figures, this type of arrangement could point towards a smaller, more sustainable future for newspapers – rather than the seemingly inevitable extinction they face otherwise.