The new Herald paywall has not deterred many people from visiting its website, but when they go there they are viewing fewer news stories.

The first full month of digital news websites’ audience numbers since imposed the premium paywall on April 30 shows the Herald dipping and Stuff gaining in both unique viewers and page views.

In May, the Herald’s audience fell by about 50,000 across the month from 1.77 to 1.72 million, about 3 percent. That is within the range of normal monthly movements.

Its number of page views was down by more, in double figures in percentage terms while rival Stuff saw page views rise by almost a fifth. Stuff’s monthly unique audience in May rose by 8 percent from 1.9 million to just over 2 million.

The gap between the two sites’ monthly unique audiences, as captured by Nielsen, now sits around 330,000 people – which is up from as low as 13,000 in December but is around what it was a year ago in May.

These trends would have been foreseen by Herald owner NZME when it imposed the paywall, which charges subscribers $5 a week or $199 a year once a promotional period is over.

Last week NZME reported it had achieved its annual target of 10,000 subscribers, although 3500 of those were paying annually and the remaining 6500 were apparently still on the reduced charge for the two months promotional scheme. One fifth of the Herald’s regular print edition subscribers had opted to sign-up for free to the digital option.

Under the paywall, the Herald cedes some total readership but is raising direct and, it hopes, sustainable reader revenue from those readers that it does have. The paywall is set to cost NZME $1.2 million this year and on its initial subscription figures it seems to have raised $850,000 in income in its first six weeks.

For Stuff, the audience gain will be a welcome boost. In months other than the peak news spike in March when the Christchurch terror attacks occurred, the country’s biggest news site has not been over the 2 million mark since August last year. It had recorded major leads of up to 430,000 over the Herald around that time but that narrow lead over the Herald last December had only stretched to 132,000 in April.

The higher number of unique readers and page views for Stuff will make it more attractive to advertisers seeking mass audiences and more eyeballs on their messages for their money.

The May audience numbers also see a strong gain of almost 100,000 for TVNZ, pushing its site above 1 million unique readers for the first time other than in March (these numbers include those accessing TVNZ On Demand shows – 1News is 585,000), and for its rival Newshub which also gains 60,000 readers to 972,000.  Newshub’s news appeal has clearly been a beneficiary in both users and page views from the Herald paywall so far.

The regionally focused Otago Daily Times is up 62,000 unique readers to 308,000 in May and the Spinoff site slips back from April’s 222,000 to 169,000. 

The Herald’s success in achieving its annual target of 10,000 paying subscribers has not been rewarded much on the sharemarket. Owner NZME’s share price, which after the paywall’s launch on April 30 briefly rose 4-5 cents to about 58 cents, has returned to near historic lows of 48 cents since and sat at 50 cents on the NZX last night.

Tim Murphy is co-editor of Newsroom. He writes about politics, Auckland, and media. Twitter: @tmurphynz

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