Sun and Telegraph planning paywalls

By | Published on Wednesday 27 March 2013

The Sun

And so it’s begun. Both the Telegraph and Sun newspapers have revealed that they will introduce paywalls this year, for the first time charging people to access their online content.

Like most consumer media in the UK, the Telegraph and Sun currently offer online access to all their content for free. And, like most of their competitors, they are now enjoying online audiences way in excess of the number of readers their print titles ever reached, even in the heyday of print newspapers.

The problem is that the ad revenues to be made from such operations are nowhere near what most newspaper owners hoped when they opted for the free-content-mass-audience approach ten years ago, mainly because of the dominance of Google, Facebook et al in the online advertising space, all of which have much lower overheads, so can sell ads much cheaper.

The Telegraph, which already has a subscription system in place for non-UK readers, will operate a paywall similar to that already employed by, and many US newspapers, whereby users can access a certain amount of content for free, but must subscribe for unlimited access. £1.99 a month will get users that full access, while a £9.99 premium option will offer other benefits.

The approach differs from The Times, the first consumer-facing newspaper in the UK to introduce a paywall. It blocks access to pretty much all of its site unless users pay to subscribe, though non-subscribers can now see the opening paragraphs of most features, in a bid to entice them in.

Such a severe paywall has an immediate negative impact on online userbase, meaning the title loses the tens of millions of unique users they likely enjoyed as a free title, though some newspaper owners would say a smaller community of paying readers is more attractive then 70 million freeloaders.

Confirming his paper’s paywall plans, Telegraph Editor Tony Gallagher said this week: “We want to develop a closer rapport with our digital audience in the UK, and we intend to unveil a number of compelling digital products for our loyal subscribers in the months ahead”.

Elsewhere, the CEO of Sun and Times publisher News International, Mike Darcey, confirmed his company’s tabloid would be following its broadsheet sister title down the paywall route, though it’s not clear what form the Sun’s subscription system will take. According to The Guardian, he said that he expected the Sun’s paywall to go up in the second half of 2013, adding that the current freemium model was “untenable”.