Mirror chief exec Simon Fox stands by no-paywall approach as publisher experiments with further offshoots

Trinity Mirror will continue to "experiment" with commercial partnerships and advertising to make money online rather than adopting a paywall, chief executive Simon Fox said today.

The Mirror is launching a dating website, Mirror Matches, this week, to join a number of other offshoot websites, such as usvsth3m.com, ampp3d.mirror.co.uk and the recently relaunched Mirror Bingo site.

Trinity Mirror’s half-year financial report today revealed that revenue across the group fell by 2.3 per cent year on year to £324.2m. But, “very much driven by the growth in publishing digital revenue, which is up 50 per cent”, this improved in May and June, and Fox told Press Gazette he is “very pleased by the momentum that is gathering across the business”.

Asked about the possibility of adopting paywalls in the future, Fox said: “For as long as we live in a world of a free BBC and a free Mail and a free Guardian, I don’t think it’s a realistic prospect for us to go behind a paywall. And we have no plans to do so.”

On monetising the Mirror’s websites, he said: “It is primarily about attracting digital advertisers. Advertisers want to spend their money on effective digital advertising. If we give them a large audience then we’re confident we can attract their budgets.

“We also have commercial partnerships. We just relaunched our bingo product. And in fact… this week we are launching an online dating product, Mirror Matches.

“So, we’ve got a large audience [and] we can monetise it in various ways.”

He added: “I think it’s really important that we experiment, learn fast and hopefully succeed – but if not move on.

“UsVsTh3m – terrific, 9m users in April – Ampp3d, Scotland Now, we just launched Row Z… and others. So I absolutely believe in the importance of experimentation.”

One product that didn’t work for Trinity Mirror was the Sunday People website, which was entirely funded by native advertising, launched in November and closed down in January.

“It was a real shame that it didn’t [work],” said Fox.

“We don’t set up anything with a view of it not working, but we also do set everything up with very clear metrics.

“And you can’t back everything so I think it’s quite important that sometimes you fail, you acknowledge that, you close down and move on.”

Trinity Mirror recently announced plans to merge the editorial desks of the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People, with eight jobs being put at risk.

“The objective is to have a common newsroom," Fox said. "Of course we need to preserve their separate identity, but it increasingly makes sense for there to be active co-operation, and the new structure will allow for more co-operation – and I actually think a better product for both Sunday papers.”

He added: “In external appearance they retain their own identity, but in terms of how we operate it will be an integrated operation.”

The half-year report also revealed that Trinity Mirror has set aside £4m for settling phone-hacking civil claims. Fox said this is a “provision to cover the costs of dealing with” 17 claims formally lodged, and more that are anticipated. Last month it emerged that the High Court was told to expect a total of 30 new phone-hacking claims against the publisher.

Fox said: “That [£4m provision] includes, but is not limited to, the 17 that have been formally served.

“We are aware of other potential claims out there that haven’t yet been formally served and this provision includes those also.

“And it’s our best estimate based on the information that we have today of the money that we need to set aside to deal with those claims.”

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