Gatekept

Perhaps you read a few stories and then head off for work. Then come back just after lunch to check on what’s new. Some of the other visitors that day don’t come back at all, while others make three-four visits through the day. Perhaps an average of 1.5 visits per day might be a good number across all 10,000 of you. Meaning 15,000 visits or “sessions” that day.

During each of those visits how many pages would you have viewed? Three? Four? Let’s assume five.

That means 75,000 “page views” by the end of the day between the 10,000 visitors. It’s the Times of India, so, of course, most pages have ads on them. Some have four, others perhaps just one. Let’s say two ads for every page on average.

That’s 150,000 ads that the Times of India’s servers might show to your 10,000-strong visitor group.

The Times of India is one of India’s most sought after, premium sites. So it charges an average of Rs 60 per thousand ads (eCPM, or effective cost per thousand impressions). Which means it earns Rs 9000 from its advertisers for those 150,000 ads it served.

And 90 paisa. That’s what your daily browsing generates for a premier site like the TOI. Or Rs 25-30 per month.

To flip the equation, that’s what you could possibly pay the Times of India to let you read their entire site free of all ads.

#TOIFresh?

On 30 June, print subscribers of the Times of India, India’s leading English newspaper, were greeted with a peel-off sticker on the front page saying, “Dear reader, thank you for being a TOI subscriber. We’re kicking off #TOIFresh today – a sharper, cleaner and more feature-filled website with far fewer ads for discerning readers like you. Visit timesofindia.com/toifresh to unlock your introductory family offer.”

At the same time, all visitors from India to the Times of India’s website were met with a similar message overlaid atop the home page, saying, “Dear reader, thank you for choosing the TOI. We’re kicking off #TOIFresh today – a sharper, cleaner and more feature-filled website with far fewer ads for discerning readers like you. If you’re an existing print subscriber, take a few minutes to create a free user ID on our website and get 6 months of complimentary access to our all-new “ad-lite” website, including for an additional family member. From the fourth month, you just pay Rs 99 extra for unlimited access to our website”

Within hours, thousands of print subscribers had signed up to activate their online subscriptions, by simply entering their names, addresses, and phone numbers. They immediately received confirmation SMSes containing a unique code to validate the identities and subscriptions.

Meanwhile, non-subscribers too were signing up at a brisk rate, albeit at a slightly higher price of Rs 149 monthly for access to the “ad-lite” version of the Times of India’s website. Compared to the 6 months print subscribers were getting free, they were offered three instead. But they too could add another family member to their account.

Both plans came with exclusive subscriber benefit programs linked to Times Internet-related services like Uber, Gaana, Dineout, Timescard etc.

Alternatives

Those who didn’t want to pay were presented with another option: “Yes, you can continue to read our website for free. But we hope you’ll understand and appreciate the fact that hundreds of journalists and other staff who strive tirelessly to bring you the news every day deserve a fair compensation. Please either switch off your ad-blocker while on our website or simply whitelist our site in your ad-blocker’s settings.”

By noon, tens of thousands had signed up as new subscribers. As the new users logged in, they found that not only had the number of ads on the site decreased drastically but that the ones that remained were better designed and unobtrusive.

The same campaign was in play at sister publication Economic Times’ print and online editions too.

Within the fortnight, Times of India and Economic Times had added nearly 250,000 new subscribers, which went up to 350,000 once you included many who had added their family members to their accounts too. There was talk if these figures could be added to the respective newspapers’ readership figures, since these were, after all, additional readers.

Sure, there were some (or many) who grumbled about having to pay for news online, but they were still a minority.

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