News UK runs two papers with very different audiences and content: The Sun and The Times.
Chris Duncan, Chief Marketing Officer at News UK, opened his keynote speech at the Digital Media Strategies conference with the following F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: “The test is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still be able to function.”
News UK has been a strong advocate for paywall subscriptions as a core strategy for revenue growth for their journalism in a digital era. In 2013, they moved The Sun to a digital subscription model. “We realised people were willing to pay for The Sun. Two years after launching we had 220,000 subscribers,” Duncan said.
However, in December 2015 News UK performed a major U-turn and removed the paywall for The Sun to boost audience engagement. He said:
“We realised the subscription model didn’t work for The Sun as this publication needed to be a large-scale content distributor.”
He highlighted that flexibility is key when running a mass media organisation. An understanding of one’s target audience is also crucial. “The Sun has had 30 million unique users per month since we removed our paywall in December,” he said. Despite the fact that The Sun was making more money through subscriptions than it is now through advertising, Duncan believes it was the right decision.
“There has never been a higher demand for breaking news. Exclusives within a subscription environment don’t work as free digital players would replicate them.
“People don’t go to The Times for breaking news. They go for the analysis and summary of the news. The Times is not a mass audience brand, it’s a brand for its audience.”
The way readers in 2016 consume news must also be taken into account:
“Last month 88 per cent of our traffic was generated through mobile. The Sun used to be an entity built for desktop. You won’t see that again.”