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News ‘set to review paywall strategy’

News Limited appears to be set to review its paywall plans for its metro tabloid mastheads after a slow takeup of Herald Sun subscriptions, The Australian’s Mark Day has suggested.

Writing in his column, Day – who is usually well informed on the inner workings of his parent company – said: “There is acknowledgment at News that strategies for paywall introductions at other titles may need review.”

In April, The Herald Sun was News Limited’s first tabloid to erect a paywall. But readers who took the three month free trial have not necessarily converted to paying subscribers. The company has so far declined to release any takeup numbers for the $4.95 a week subscription although Day says that 240,000 took the initial trial.

Day, who describes the Herald Sun as “News’s canary in the coalmine”, quotes “a senior editor” within the company he asked about the drive to paywalls and whether it would work. “It won’t,” was the answer.

Day also quotes an executive as saying: “Telling people they now have to pay for something they had free for 15 years requires a big sell.”

The Herald Sun’s paywall drive centres around the loyalty of AFL fans to the title’s SuperFooty interactive game, which regularly had 400,000 players and was thought to be the key driver to encourage fans to subscribe. However, the Superfooty site can be accessed for free via other News Limited websites which removes the necessity to subscribe if readers realise.

Media agency network Group M’s chief digital officer Danny Bass told Mumbrella that he preferred the apporach of Fairfax Media which has so far stuck with a free strategy although it has telegraphed a move to metered access in the coming months.

Bass said: “The Fairfax model of going free for everything has won the day so far. Go big, make it free. The challenge for Fairfax is how to convert them. The micropayment model seems to work better in this market – people are more comfortable with it. The model working around the world is the gaming model – free or low cost to start with and them small purchases in game or in-app. A 50c charge as you go is a lot easier for consumers to accept than a $5 charge at the start of each month, even if it adds up to more overall. It’s the iTunes model.”

Other News titles due to follow suit are Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph, Brisbane’s The Courier Mail and The Adelaide Advertiser.

The Herald Sun declined to comment.

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