Back in mid July the NBR decided to put a chunk of their content behind a subscription wall. I was one of many amateur untrained unqualified bloggers that not only objected to being characterised as such, but was pretty scathing about the decision to lock away the content. NBR in turn referred I guessed to myself and others as “amateur hour, self righteous and all knowing bloggers.”
So how has the NBR fared? It was a half-assed launch, but they seem to have settled into a modus operendi. They are doing several things well – their site design is crisp and easy to use, their reporters are excellent and they are covering great stories.
NBR’s page impressions have clearly declined since the wall was erected, and we can expect that this was expected by them. It’s surprising to me that Interest.co.nz had not performed better versus NBR though:
It gets very interesting when we add Stuff and NZHerald (this is why I am using indexing as they are so large) into the mix:
Neither NBR nor interest.co.nz are performing well, while each of the two major media companies have grown their traffic substantially, with the big winner being Stuff. According to several people on twitter (My thanks to @wrumbsy, @natobasso, @jadE_tangyfruit, @edcorkery, @jransom and nameless others on Twitter direct message) this was perhaps due to a bit of a redesign in August, a continuous series of tweaks since then and the effect of increased traffic from quizzes. NZ Herald have also been tweaking recently, which may account for their recent rise in PIs. I have no idea what drove their spike though – does anyone know?
We can see that the average time spent in a session rose sharply during that spike for NZHerald (and dropped a bit for Stuff) in late September/Early October, but that it has fallen away. Stuff on the other hand saw an initial drop and has been rising steadily since, to the point where visitors to both sites spend about the same amount of time there each time- almost 400 seconds.
When we look at the Unique Browsers (indexed again) we see that interest.co.nz is wallowing while searching for another financial crisis to drive traffic, while NBR improved a little but lost it again recently. Stuff and NZHerald continue to be inseparable, and have distanced themselves from their business and investment focused brethren.
The sharp drop in unique browsers after the wall came up (especially versus other sites) shows that NBR’s decision caused them to lose a lot of readers.
And finally we get to my favorite measure – how much time was spent on each site by all people. It’s similar to the stories above, and shows that Stuff has kicked up and continues to do so, while NBR’s growth was stymied in July and they have fallen behind, to languish with interest.conz.
Finally let’s put this in perspective.
NBR and interest.co.nz are tiny compared to Stuff and NZHerald. They do however attract very interesting demographic and action-oriented segments of readers though, and so advertisers like to use them.
The other telling point in the chart is that Stuff have surfed past NZHerald in total time spent on the site. This is a big accomplishment, and so congratulations to everyone there. NZHerald are of course not standing still either, and the battle will continue for a long time. I expect that there will never be a winner unless one party blinks and tries something stupid like, well erecting a subscription paywall.
But let’s go back to the NBR – just what happened since the wall was erected? Here are all of their key traffic statistics measures gathered into one chart. and all indexed from April 6 as above:
As you can see they have all dropped. You could take your pick of start and end dates, and I have done so for this final chart. It makes for grim reading if you are selling advertising for NBR.
In the end the average for the statistics (a contrived statistic to be sure) dropped almost 30% due to the wall being erected. The average amount of time spent on site has fallen the least, but people are looking at 34% less pages and people are spending 38% less time on the site. That 38% is extremely worrying given that competition has grown in the meantime, and thus NBR’s overall share of media attention has fallen away sharply. Advertisers care about that sort of stuff, so the revenue from advertising should be expected to fall accordingly.
Was it the right decision?
That’s hard to tell. The pricing is excessively high for non corporates, the way existing newspaper subscribers do not get a free ride is not fair and the original implementation seemed rushed. The quality of the writing and the actual website are not in dispute – it’s just a shame that less of us are seeing the content. The unknown that determines success or failure is simply how many paying subscribers there are, and what will and is happening when the first bunch of subscribers roll over into the next six month period. I await the news – though I probably won’t be able to read it at NBR.co.nz.