Popular British tabloid The Sun is set to compete with major free news sites like Mail Online after the masthead made the decision to abandon its two-year old digital subscription model, in a move closely watched by the industry.
The decision comes as other international publishers, including The Economist, are taking stock of digital revenues and, in some cases, adopting new revenue options.
News UK chief executive Rebekah Brooks informed Sun staff via email last week that from November 30 the majority of The Sun’s online content would be made available for free.
“I recently shared with you the future priorities for the company and am excited today to tell you more about our plans for the first of these: growing The Sun’s audience,” Ms Brooks wrote.
“Entering this new chapter for The Sun, we are in a strong position thanks to the many learnings we bring from the paid-for era. We know more about our readers than ever before.”
Social media will play a significant role in the new Sun strategy, with targeted growth in the number of shareable stories, as well as platform partnerships with Apple News and Facebook Instant Article.
Ms Brooks said Unruly, a programmatic platform for social media advertising recently acquired by News, and the company’s social media agency Storyful, would be major players in how The Sun would “supercharge” its digital advertising capabilities.
The move follows the recent decision by the Toronto Star to drop its subscription model, with the Canadian daily saying it was better off opening up its website after audience growth plateaued following strong early adoption numbers.
It also follows a troubling summer for the UK newspaper industry which brought large falls in print advertising and a slowing of growth in digital ad revenue.
The Sun introduced its £7.99 a month subscription model back in August 2013 and signalled a change in strategy this July when it decided to make a broad range of its online articles available for free.
Its biggest success has been with fantasy football site Dream Team which attracted a record 1.25 million customers signing up to be managers, and content reaching 276 million people on social media.
‘I have every confidence that this digital evolution will ensure that the unique space The Sun occupies in British culture will be preserved – and enhanced’ – Rebekah Brooks
“When all of this is added to our new blended revenue model of advertising, premium content and revenue streams such as Dream Team and other exciting opportunities on the horizon, I have every confidence that this digital evolution will ensure that the unique space The Sun occupies in British culture will be preserved – and enhanced,” Ms Brooks said.
Keith Poole, managing editor of Mail Online in the US, will become digital editor of The Sun to assist with the masthead’s transition to a free site.
As The Sun prepares to compete for digital advertising dollars in the competitive free news site market, other publications are experimenting with new ways of building and securing revenue.
The Economist is now offering marketers the ability to buy readers’ attention on a cost-per-hour basis both online and in its app, complementing its part subscription part ad-funded business model.
The weekly magazine’s attention-based selling will see it charge advertisers only for display ad impressions that generate more than five-seconds of “active” view time, where active describes audience behaviour including scrolling, typing or using a mouse.
The Economist has previously experimented with time-based selling and follows similar moves by the Financial Times which adopted time-based selling in earlier this year.
Meanwhile, British national paper The Guardian is putting a new spin on the subscription model by encouraging readers to pay £5 a month to become “supporters”.
The benefits of being a supporter include access to live streamed content, tickets, offers and competitions. However, all of The Guardian’s content remains free to access on its app and website regardless of whether the reader supports the publication or not.
“What Guardian membership does is secure the future of this independent newspaper,” columnist Owen Jones said in a video promoting the supporters model.
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