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Asked whether the Times will follow the New York Times' (NYT) metered paywall model launched last year, Tom Whitwell, editorial director of Times Digital today said: "If we genuinely believe that will work, we will do that."
"If you can have your cake and eat it and sell it at the same time", the Times wants a piece. But Whitwell, who oversaw the Times' July 2010 move to a paywall, is yet to be convinced.
Speaking at the Paywall Strategies conference in London, Whitwell explained that while the Times has no current plans, it is watching the Grey Lady's model closely.
"We look at any of these systems," he told Journalism.co.uk. "And if we see a system that works better than our one we would probably move to that system.
"It's not that we are considering that, planning that. The system we have at the moment works very well."
"I personally think there are huge problems with those kinds of systems where you are trying to sell something and give it away at the same time.
"It's a confusing message, I think it's difficult; but if someone showed me some data that proved you can give it away and sell it at the same time, we would look at that data and and I'm sure we would do it in that way."
Paywalls and social media barriers
Without a NYT-style metered paywall model, the Times does not benefit from non-subscribers sharing content.
"It's fiddlier for us to do it," Whitwell said, pointing out that @timesfashion has amassed 750,000 followers.
Whitwell hinted that the Times may be looking at ways social media clicks can access paid-for content.
"Working how we let people read articles that people have shared will be a significant improvement of what we are doing."Working how we let people read articles that people have shared will be a significant improvement of what we are doingTom Whitwell
"Paid journalism can still go viral," Whitwell explained, adding that it's not that paywalled articles that will be spread via social media, but that having a paid content system "has not stopped" the potentially viral nature of Facebook and Twitter being tapped.
The Times has run "several successful social media campaigns", including a recent one promoting cycling. The campaign was across digital and print platforms, with a hashtag on Twitter.
"A form lets you write a letter to your MP, put a badge on your blog," Whitwell said.
"It's just using those simple social media tools, but to do an editorial campaign."
Last year saw Word Nerd used by 40,000 Twitter users. That was dreamt up to promote Times journalists on Twitter. They were linking to content behind the wall, promoting subscriptions.
"We built this tool where you go onto the site, you type in your Twitter name and and then it uses a thing called the Google Ngram Database to analyse the vocabulary in those words."
You are then returned a score to tell you how wide or narrow your vocabulary.
"About 5,000 people put in @StephenFry to find out what Stephen Fry's score was."
Further areas were also discussed.
The Times is "spreading to different platforms", says Whitwell
The news outlet offers a £2-a-week subscription online, iPad, iPhone and Android apps, is available on Kindle, and has a web app (currently in beta).
Whitwell said "I'm sure we'll be doing something interesting on the Kindle Fire when that comes out."
There are 120,000 "pure paying" digital subscribers, some of whom come through the iTunes store and some of whom are direct subscribers, Whitwell said.
In addition there are around 100,000 who gain access via a print subscription.
Whitwell is encouraged by recent iPad stats. "In January, 60,000 people were downloading an edition each day,"
"That's the closest digital equivalent of someone going to the news stand and picking up a copy."
Over Christmas around 10,000 people a day were downloading the app itself, the vehicle necessary to permit purchase of the iPad edition.
There are evening peaks in app use and "video does very well".
Comments and community
The Times currently gets around 1,500 reader comments every day. "We now have 50 or 60 per cent of volume and quality is that much higher", Whitwell said.
But how much money is all of this providing? Whitwell was not prepared to share revenue figures but did say: "We are making more money now from subscriptions and advertising than we were from just advertising. That's what we wanted to achieve."
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