The Sun sets on its paywall attempt

The U.K.-based tabloid magazine, The Sun, made the announcement in 2013 that it would begin charging for access to its website. According to a Press Gazette article by Dominic Ponsford, as the fourth most popular U.K. national newspaper, The Sun decided to follow suit among its other parent-company’s news outlets and implemented its first paywall.

Within its first 10 days following the paywall implementation, The Sun dropped a third of its web market share, according to an August 2013 Press Gazette article. The article also states that although its market share dropped 36%, it still fared better than when the U.K.’s The Times implemented its paywall in 2010 and dropped 66% of its market share within the first month.

Two years later, in 2015, The Sun announced that it would make more of its online content available for free. This decision, according to Ponsford’s Press Gazette article in June 2015, was made to re-imagine the newspaper and allow it to continue to evolve its business model in response to the rapidly changing digital technology. The newspaper decided that select digital content would be made available for free to encourage shareability.

Ponsford states that before the implementation of the paywall in July 2013, The Sun had substantial online traffic, with 30 million uniques visitors per month. By December 2013, the newspaper claimed it had 117,000 paying digital subscribers. Not quite two years later, in March 2015, online and print subscribers combined accounted for 13.6 million readers. However, competing outlets were faring better with the Daily Mail reaching 29 million readers a month and the Mirror reaching 23 million. Despite these number, The Sun remained the most popular daily newspaper in print with 1.8 million in sales daily.

However, before the year ended, The Sun made a major turnaround by announcing it would be scrapping its paywall on November 30, 2015. In his article in The Guardian, Mark Sweney states that after “relaxing its paywall strategy [in July 2015] The Sun…increased its average daily browser numbers to about 1 million.” However, at the time the paywall was removed, the newspaper had only 250,000 paying subscribers.

By mid-2016, the newspaper’s forecast appeared more sunny. According to a Business Insider article from early July 2016, The Sun’s “readership increased 108% since the publisher removed its strict paywall in December 2015.” Online visitors increased from 17 million in December to over 35 million in May.

The Sun is not the only news outlet to implement a paywall strategy and then rescind it. The Toronto Star did the exact same thing, launching its paywall in August 2013 and dropping it less than two years later in April 2015. However, The Sun’s ability to double its readership within months after removing its paywall is a notable lesson indeed.


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