Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Is NYT Fudging Traffic Numbers Post-Paywall?

I suspect you can add a new ending to an old phrase and make it go something like this: "Lies, Damn Lies and NYT Online Visitor Statistics".

Page views from March to April declined 24.4% at The New York Times Online, according to AdAge. This was first full month following the institution of the paywall at NYT.

This sounds like an inordinately small decrease, especially given that AdAge reports  news traffic websites overall had a slow month in April. Yahoo News saw page views decline 23.9% and saw page views slide 21.4%, according to a Times spokeswoman, reports AdAge.

This would suggest that NYT has faced hardly any readership decline because of the paywall. Hard to believe.

The only way to really determine what's going on at NYT is to know information that NYT is not providing. First, if someone hits a blocked page, is that counted by NYT as a visit, even though the visitor doesn't read the page?

Second, is the paywall so porous that there is no reason to pay for a subscription and that the porousness of the paywall is what is driving traffic?

I am not a subscriber to NYT, but I would venture to guess that I read 2 or 3 NYT stories per day and rarely run into the paywall--maybe twice a week. I should point out that  I am not discussing the more complex and nefarious ways that have been suggested to get around the paywall, but simply the many ways NYT allows free entry to its site. In the past, I have seldom visited NYT from its frontpage and haven't tried since the paywall went up, but I have generally been directed to the stories I want to read via links by others. These links almost always allow me to gain access to the stories.

Thus, the news out of NYT may be more that those who have paid for a subscription have been duped into getting something that is pretty easy to access without a paid subscription or, if others aren't finding access as easy as it has been for me, perhaps NYT is fudging its visitorship by counting landings on blocked pages as a visit.

I doubt, however, that on a news adjusted basis for the month of April that, as NYT is reporting, they have lost hardly any visitors. The paywall is either overall very porous (as it is for me, personally) or they are counting those who land on blocked pages as visitors. Perhaps both factors are having an impact, which would, of course, shed a much different light on the "success" of NYT's paywall.

For NYT shareholders to really understand what is going on at NYT, shareholders need to know how many visits are coming from paid subscribers, how many are turned away because of blocked pages (and if they are counted as visits) and how many visitors are coming through because of the porousness of the paywall.

1 comment:

  1. All that a shareholder needs to know is how the bottom line was impacted. If they can make a better bottom line with a paywall and many fewer hits then they made a great business decision for at least the short term. My guess is that they will need to find a balance between free and fee.