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Liz Jaques 

Times total paid-for subs reach 297,000

The Times

and Sunday Times' total print and digital subscribers have climbed to 297,000, Dominic Carter, commercial director at News International, revealed at MediaTel Group's latest Future of National Newspapers event at Merrill Lynch this morning.

Carter said The Times' digital paywall offers News International a sustainable future, which could not be achieved through advertising alone.

Total paid-for digital subscribtions to The Times and Sunday Times now stand at 131,000 (a mix of contract and recurring monthly subscriptions).

He said NI is taking different approaches across its business but was positive about the company's decision to put The Times and The Sunday Times' digital content behind a paywall. "It is expensive to run a quality news outlet", he added

Carter explained that the launch of Apple's iPad "changed things" and mentioned the "immersive experience" gained through tablet apps and the newspapers' growing mobile audience (free smartphone apps are offered as part of a Times subscription).

"We are proving that the model works... our subscribers are hyper-engaged," he said.

Carter told delegates that the publisher has a lot of data on consumers, which they want to control. The challenge for NI, he said, is deciding how to use that data commercially to help advertisers turn it into a profitable model.

However, Carter claimed that NI will be "a more successful business in the future for having paywalls".

Raymond Snoddy, BBC presenter and Newsline columnist, said the numbers are starting to persuade him that paywalls can work, while Vanessa Doyle, head of press & cinema at Initiative Media, commented: "News International's numbers are starting to sound compelling... advertisers want big numbers and engaged audiences - we haven't really seen that yet but it is changing now."

Meanwhile Guy Zitter, MD of Mail Newspapers, stated that the MailOnline is making £25 million ad revenue (net) - growing at 70% - which in his eyes is "not even touching the sides" (most of the MailOnline's ad revenue comes from the UK, though two thirds of its audience is outside the UK). "There are lots of opportunities - a whole new advertising pond and a broader range of media revenue opportunities for us now," he said.

Guardian News & Media's head of client sales Mark Finney also revealed that the group has opened a New York office with 30 editorial and commercial staff in a bid to monetise its US audience. "We have a huge overseas audience - 68 million browsers a month - but we haven't monetised it enough yet... we need to harden CPMs in the US."

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