The Sun newspaper’s website has finally disappeared behind a paywall today, or at least been partly obscured. As of 1st August, readers heading to the site have a limit of 20 articles per month before they’ll need to cough up £2 a week for a ‘Sun+’ subscription.
Paywalls have been kicking about in the UK newspaper industry for quite a while, trickling down from the elite readership of the Financial Times in 2007, through to The Times and Sunday Times and more recently The Daily Telegraph. While the FT seems to be making a good job of it, helped arguably in part by the exclusive nature of its editorial remit, the others are struggling a little.
The Times lost around 90% of its traffic when its paywall went up in just over three years ago, but since then a change in tactics (you can now see the first few lines of each article where once you had a big pink ‘pay us now’ button) has helped Murdoch’s flagship quality paper claw back some readers.
Surprisingly The Sun+ model more closely resembles the Telegraph’s paywall than The Times’, with the first 20 articles a month free. It is still the first tabloid to erect a paywall, which has sparked the debate of whether the mass audience of Sun readers will pay for something they can’t thrust into their back pocket.
At least one man thinks they will, and one thinks they won’t.
Steve Hewlett, of Radio 4’s Media Show, told BBC News the £30m The Sun spent on the rights to broadcast Premiership goal highlights on the site will help attract readers/viewers. “For Sun readers, many of whom are mad about football, even if you didn’t have the rest of what The Sun had to offer, that service on your mobile…I could kind of see that working.”
On the other hand, Simon Fox of Trinity Mirror Group has spotted an opportunity for Mirror.co.uk. Head to site today and you’ll see a huge homepage image with the line “the best things in life are free”, linking to this page.
Fox is betting The Sun will indeed see something in the region of a 90% drop-off in visitors, and that’s 27 million odd pairs of eyeballs he’d like to grab hold off. He said in a statement “We are clearly looking forward to welcoming any previous Sun website users that don’t want to pay for access…It is an interesting move. It has been the case that about 10% of traffic will remain [following the introduction of a paywall] so that means about 27 million [browsers] will be looking for another home.”
He continues “It could be a win-win for both of us…They want a smaller size audience paying, we want a bigger one free.” Not exactly a forward-thinking strategy, but you have to admire the guy’s spirit.