Two years after paywall move, The Sun to make strategy change towards free online content

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The Sun is to make more content available for free online nearly two years after the launch of its digital paywall.

News UK chief executive Mike Darcey told staff this morning that since last summer a "cross departmental project" has been working on a plan to "re-imagine The Sun and evolve its business model to take account of rapid changes in technology and the way readers are accessing and sharing news".

From early July, "select" digital content from The Sun will be available for free online.

Darcey said: "Much of this content will be generated on a bespoke basis by new teams, but editors will also be able to deploy other Sun stories, especially ones well covered by competitors. Expect to see early moves of this kind in the areas of general news and sports.

"The guiding principle for the free content will be shareability, helping us to take advantage of the growing trend of readers finding and sharing content on social media, given further impetus by the rapid rise in smartphone use. By doing so, we can extend the reach of The Sun brand, bring more people into a Sun conversation and provide an entry point to our paid propositions, both print and digital. At the same time, we will be expanding our pool of digital inventory, making us better placed to respond to the calls of advertisers for solutions across print and digital."

The Sun attracted 30m unique browsers per month before going behind the paywall in July 2013, according to ABC.

In December 2013, The Sun revealed it had 117,000 paying digital subscribers. And it claimed this number had risen to 225,000 in November last year.

The Sun is no longer ABC-audited online, but according to the National Readership Survey its overall monthly reach in the UK has declined sharply since the paywall move.

According to the NRS, The Sun reached 13.6m readers a month online and in print in the year to March 2015. This put it in seventh place, behind The Independent.

The NRS claims that the Daily Mail reaches 29m readers a month in the UK (in print and online) and the Mirror is said to reach 23m.

The Sun remains the most popular daily newspaper in print, with 1.8m sales per day.

Darcey said in an email to staff: "We are pursuing this opportunity in a way that continues to protect the paid-for edition in print and tablet form, which funds our journalism.  In turn that means we need to be true to The Sun brand, while also ensuring that our free digital presence is differentiated from, and does not diminish the value of, the paid edition.

"We will engage with social media, while avoiding becoming merely a news feed for other aggregator brands. And we will gain much experience in how best to tell stories in the digital world.  We will also make sure that we execute this shift in a way that provides a net positive contribution to profitability.

"This is the beginning, not the end, of our evolution of The Sun, as we continue to look across the range of content distribution models at News Corp properties globally for lessons learned. We’ve also benefited from the experience of other brand extension initiatives locally, like Sun Bingo, Sun Dream Team and Sun Nation. 

"And we take inspiration from the success of The Times, which will observe the fifth anniversary of its shift to a paid-for edition on 30 June. With its consistent delivery of market-beating print sale performance and quality journalism, The Times is making a profit for the first time in recent history.

"At The Sun, and at all our News UK businesses, we will continue to experiment and adapt, responding to changes in the marketplace and technology. In this way, we can ensure that our world-class professional journalism continues to reach and reward millions of readers across the UK, Ireland and beyond. As ever, our audience remains top of mind."

In March The Sun launched a stand-alone political website called Sun Nation, which is available for free.

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