So last week The Sun confirmed that it will be pulling down its paywall at the end of the month. Shame I wasn’t blogging back in 2013, as back then I didn’t think it would work for The Sun so this could have been a ‘I told you so’ follow up post.
Anyway, I just couldn’t see where they would get subscribers from and why would people pay to subscribe when the content is available online for free. The only newspaper paywall I do agree with is that of the Financial Times. It offers unique content that isn’t available elsewhere. It is the key publication for the financial sector, with news and content that isn’t available anywhere else (to an extent anyway…), I doubt there are many financial professionals that don’t have access.
Despite being a news junky I personally don’t subscribe to any of the paywalls – it is only through corporate subscriptions of clients or employers that I’ve gained access. I wonder how many of the subscribers are relevant business/PR departments compared to dedicated consumers. Similar to the large number of (I expect) viewers of the 24- hour news channels being media types.
Interestingly enough, I was on the Daily Mail mobile website the other day and upon landing was asked if you wanted to view news or showbiz – this showing how they have successfully diversified their audience and that the site is the first port of call for many who would baulk at actually buying and reading the Daily Mail. The Sun behind a paywall was never going to be able to compete, when all the showbiz gossip – one of the key reasons to visit The Sun website and to subscribe – can be found for free on the Daily Mail.
The Telegraph have installed a half paywall, where it’s free up to a number of views – the best of both worlds if you like as they can still get the advertising revenue not available to full paywall publications (much smaller numbers of visitors means much smaller advertising revenue), but still get the subscription income from their heavy users (who subscribe) plus all the additional customer data it gathers. 2014 readership figures show about 16m monthly visitors, similar to Guardian that doesn’t have a paywall… Whether it will be sustained we’ll have to wait and see.
That said, David Dinsmore, COO of News UK (who own The Sun) said on the BBC’s Media Show last week that they had 225,000 subscribers, which is pretty good, and more than I would have expected. The difficulty according to Dinsmore was the cost of acquiring them.
He also claims that there are no plans to bring down the paywall on the Times and Sunday Times, although I’m not convinced that it will last that much longer. Like The Sun, and unlike the Financial Times, it is general news. Yes, there will be some exclusives and certain, quality commentators, but it is news you can get elsewhere on the internet or in other newspapers.
The only way I see paywalls actually working is if all the major newspapers put up paywalls and there wasn’t any advertising only options. And even that is not guaranteed as it would just open up opportunities to new entrants.
So I still don’t have the answer as to how we’re going to continue to fund the UK’s quality journalism, but I’m pretty sure paywalls are not the answer (but don’t think that I’ve stopped trying to figure it out…)
Here’s the BBC Media Show Podcast: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06mg9fk
And more from the Guardian on the issue (No paywall here): http://www.theguardian.com/media/2015/nov/04/news-uk-chief-refuses-to-rule-out-scrapping-times-paywall-in-future