Trinity Mirror CEO Simon Fox on the problem with paywalls, industry consolidation and what's wrong with metrics

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Jasper Jackson, TheMediaBriefing Experts' Blog, Newspapers

Newspapers in the UK and US are rushing headlong into gated access models, metered systems and paywalls - with even The Sun planning to raise the content drawbridge later this year.

But Trinity Mirror CEO Simon Fox is unconvinced and told a conference today he doesn't believe there's an opportunity for The Mirror or Sunday Mirror websites to go behind a paywall or charge for tablet editions, even though mobile access currently accounts for a quarter of all web traffic.

Speaking at the Shift 2013 conference in London on Tuesday, he said there are no plans to begin charging for the Mirror's tablet edition, which is free on weekdays, because it is not substituting the printed paper.

Trinity Mirror has had 120,000 downloads of Mirror from Apple's app store and plans to launch an Android version in coming months. Readers are spending 30 minutes per edition, he says - just three minutes less than the print version - and nearly half are clicking on ads.

"Right now I don’t think enough people  will pay for content to make a paywall attractive. Content people are willing to pay for needs to be truly unique and I can understand why the Financial Times has been able to do it," says Fox. 

"In a world where we have a free MailOnline, free BBC and free Guardian, it is hard to see (what The Mirror titles would get out of it) if we were to put up a paywall."

Metrics opportunity

But could the big problem facing newspapers have been audience measurement all along? Trinity Mirror CEO Simon Fox certainly thinks it could make a big difference.

Fox revealed Trinity Mirror is planning to begin reporting monthly ABC circulation stats for core regional titles from the second half of this year. Regional papers in the UK currently tend to report stats every six months. 

In addition, he says Trinity will be "happy" to provide advertisers with daily and weekly circulation figures for national titles. 

He also says the group is planning to start a drive to develop cross-media metrics for online readerships that include tablets and mobiles.

"When I came in I was surprised we were not sharing circulation data more regularly," he says. "We only publish monthly for national and six monthly for regionals. I was surprised in the lack of rigour in language of digital.

"We urgently need robust and rigorous way of describing cross-platform. NRS PADD is a good start. However, even this excludes mobile and tablet. If we are to be successful in migrating to digital world, this must be a priority."

Local World

Some long-awaited consolidation of the regional media scene came last year when Northcliffe Media split away from Associated to form Local World, encompassing Illiffe News & Media (our interview with CEO Steve Auckland is here). Trinity took a 20 percent stake in the venture.

But why wasn't Trinity's titles part of the deal? Fox says it decided not to merge because it's too busy bringing its regional and national operations closer together and building growth.

Fox also doubts whether consolidation at that scale would make it past the Office of Fair Trading. However, he says Trinity's 20 percent stake in the group could allow it to become more involved in the future. 

"(That stake) may allow us in the future to benefit from further industry consolidation."

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