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LONDON – In a move that will be closely watched by the industry, The Sun, News Corp’s British tabloid, will launch a digital paywall on Thursday. The Sun is the country’s best-selling newspaper with more than 12 million readers per week.
The Times of London, which, like The Sun, is part of News Corp’s News UK unit, has had a paywall since 2010. The broadsheet’s weekly cost depends on whether a reader wants online access only on a computer or various devices and whether print papers are included: $3-$9.12 (£2-£6). Murdoch’s U.K. newspaper empire is looking to apply The Times approach to the tabloid.
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“Asking readers to pay for content is the only way to protect the future of the newspaper industry,” said Sun editor David Dinsmore in a statement on Wednesday.
Industry observers say the move doesn’t have much precedence. So far, paywalls have been mostly employed by broadsheets. Some originally wondered if the Sun audience, which on average is less affluent than Times readers, would be willing to shell out money for a paywall.
But News UK, led by CEO Mike Darcey, a former COO of pay TV giant BSkyB, earlier this year acquired the rights to show digital clips of English Premier League soccer, Britain’s most popular sport. They are expected to be a key draw for subscribers.
Starting Thursday, “Only Sun+ subscribers will have access to The Sun online, with thesun.co.uk available on whichever device suits them,” The Sun said on Wednesday about its impending launch of the paywall.
It described Sun+ as “a whole new world of digital entertainment available across web, phone and tablet devices.”
Sun+ membership will cost $3 (£2) per week. The paper called that “unbeatable value that will give readers more great content and more ways to view it whenever they want.”
Sun+ subscriptions will have three pillars: Sun+ Digital, which provides digital access across platforms, Sun+ Goals, which will offer soccer clips, and Sun+Perks, which will provide special offers.
Sun+ Goals will give members access to the near-live video clips of every English Premier League goal on the go — hours before sports shows providing soccer round-ups. BSkyB and telecom giant BT have the rights to show the soccer games live, keeping them on pay TV.
Meanwhile, Sun+ Perks will give members “freebies, deals and promotions worth more than $304 (£200)” every month. Perks include shopping discounts, free apps, e-books, movie tickets and more.
“So that our print readers can enjoy the same benefits as our digital members, we have installed new, inject printing technology that allows unique codes to be printed daily,” The Sun also said. “Readers can redeem these online and gain full access to Sun+.”
By collecting 20 codes each month, print readers can get continuous access to The Sun online. Said Dinsmore: “This is a landmark event for The Sun and a testament to the pioneering attitude of Britain’s best-selling newspaper. Once again we are leading the way with our innovative technology, drawing on our journalistic heritage and our unrivaled world-class content.”
In late March, Darcey said the practice of offering all content for free on the Internet was “untenable” for the newspaper industry.
Earlier in July, he said that other newspaper groups were giving up profits by continuing to offer online content for free and trying to build a larger audience.
Darcey said he would rather “generate meaningful revenue” than simply focusing on growing the size of a paper’s web audience.
He also argued that paying subscribers are more engaged with content.
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“Some people have argued that the problem with a paywall strategy is that you lose reach, while others who maintain a free web presence continue to enjoy large numbers of unique users and page views,” Darcey said back then. “This reach doesn’t generate any meaningful revenue, and the pursuit of it undermines the piece of the business that does make money.”
Darcey said that The Times currently has 140,000 paying digital subscribers and 395,000 print buyers, making for a total of 435,000 paying monthly subscribers.
Concluded Darcey: “If your purpose contemplates still being here in five to 10 years, then the choice seems clear: It is better to sacrifice reach and preserve sustainable profitability.”
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