Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign and editor of Media Week
Arif Durrani, head of media at Campaign and editor of Media Week
A view from Arif Durrani

Arif Durrani: Newspapers strike back with online paywalls

Will people pay for general news online? Not if they can get it elsewhere for free. Which is why the new strategies behind the pay models for the Telegraph brands - and, later this summer, The Sun - are rooted in more than selling generic news.

The two publishers represent different approaches to charging for content online, with Telegraph Media Group's proposition signalling the first time a general interest British newspaper has employed the metered model (More on the benefits of Telegraph's metered proposition here).

Over in Wapping, News International’s senior executives have learnt much from the News of the World’s short foray behind a paywall during 2010-2011. Traffic disappeared overnight, advertisers were spooked and many of its popular scoops went viral via social media only after being rewritten by rival media sources.

However, before the brand’s demise, the redtop’s digital situation had started to improve as the publisher began to adapt to its new ecosytem. And it is from this base that The Sun will launch its paywall in the summer.

'Expect a focus on the customer journey, from marketing campaigns to exclusive readership offers'

It is likely that The Sun’s homepage will remain open for search purposes, while specialist agencies will be hired to ensure splashes and lead stories are actively seeded via social media and indexed by Google.

Expect a sharp focus on the customer journey, from marketing campaigns through to payments and exclusive readership offers.  

I understand The Sun is also preparing to launch an all-singing, all-dancing iPad app to help boost its transition to paid content. One thing we know for certain: people pay for apps.

Fuelling the site will be significant investment in bespoke multimedia content, notably Premier League football highlights – but more female-oriented initiatives are coming too.

News International executives will be encouraged by the success of online pay models reported by the Newspaper Association of America this week.

More than 300 newspapers now have paywalls of some kind, from the small and mid-size papers to many leading stalwarts, including the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, LA Times, and, later this year, The Washington Post.

They have helped lift newspapers' circulation revenues by 5 per cent in the last year, to $10.4 billon, representing the sector's first gain since 2003. Caroline Little, president of the NAA, believes the turnaround is proof "America's newspaper media are transforming themselves".

Those at the Telegraph, meanwhile, will have particularly noted that The New York Times, which launched its metered model two years ago, is expected to generate in the region of $90 million (£60m) from digital subscriptions in 2013.

In comparison, at Mail Online - the UK's most successful free news site, where monthly page views have rocketed by one billion in the last year, driven by more than 110 million unique users - advertising revenues are tipped to reach a more modest £45 million. Food for thought all round.