The Sun eases paywall on selected content – what are the implications for advertisers?


The Sun has announced it is going to be changing its digital offering, relaxing the stringent paywall. Alex Wilson, from Carat’s publishing team, looks at the consequences for the market and advertisers.

Alex Wilson Publishing Executive UK The Sun Paywall

The Sun's new digital approach will be based on ‘shareability’ of content, following the continued rise in social media usage. 

The content will be led by a new team, with editors able to push out content, in particular those stories that are heavily covered by competitors. This change follows on from the free political website The Sun launched alongside the general election earlier this year, Sun Nation

This is yet another model in the paid for content marketplace, showing that all publishers have a different approach to the free vs paid debate.

The FT model of subscriptions follows a similar approach, in order to maintain the value of quality journalism, and The Telegraph uses a metered paywall approach. 

The Sun will use a similar approach, strategically deciding on a case by case basis on what content to share and what to keep behind the paywall. maintains its stance of keeping all online content free – an approach backed up by the 70 million global audience figure for May within the same marketplace as The Sun. 

The latest data from The Sun (December) shows their subscriber base is at 117,000, way off the 30 million unique visitors achieved in 2013, struggling to lock in members at L2 a week. Many of these new digital paying customers have been a cost to the company with a high proportion of subscriptions coming through free annual subscriptions via Tesco Hudl tablet bundles and O2 mobile contracts.

Where The Sun has struggled behind a paywall, the company has been more successful with The Times, reporting a profit in their fifth anniversary of being behind a paywall.

Through this new approach, The Sun are able to enter into a conversation through social networking, whilst still maintaining the value of their paid for content and not diminishing the value of paid for content.

Whilst the free content will enable The Sun to engage with a new social audience, there will be a differentiation between free and paid for content. This idea of creating conversation with the audience is designed to avoid The Sun becoming yet another newsfeed amongst a busy marketplace. 

By pushing content out for free through social networking sites, The Sun are able to maintain their audience database through requiring a user to log into the site through Facebook or similar, which will certainly allow The Sun to push strong targeting opportunities.

Whilst The Sun has suffered online in recent years, the brand itself has not become any quieter; still remaining number one in the daily newspaper print market with an ABC certified circulation of 1.8 million.

  • It will be interesting to see how this will affect the audience can offer to advertisers, potentially increasing the likelihood of multi-media partnerships across The Sun’s various touchpoints
  • Opening the paywall socially will inevitably entice people onto the site and take down the barrier of cost to user.
  • This will in turn boost the Sun’s online numbers towards the figures the mass market brand enjoyed pre-paywall.
Alex Wilson Publishing Executive UK The Sun Paywall
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