News UK leads the charge as the idea of paid digital access gains momentum

Arif Durrani: head of media, Campaign / editor of Media Week
Arif Durrani: head of media, Campaign / editor of Media Week

It's a brave new dawn for News UK, home to The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun. Barely two weeks old, the new company's name and logo are matched by a new structure, vision and - if terms can be agreed - perhaps a new London Bridge address too.

If Rupert Murdoch’s news operation moves out of Wapping after 27 years and into the "Baby Shard", it would be symbolic of the transformation taking place in the company; News UK’s chief executive, Mike Darcey, is talking about "an exciting time" and "a bright new chapter", and is "determined to secure a sustainable future for professional journalism".

Strategically, reducing News UK’s reliance on advertising is one way to create a more resilient business. In the UK, the press ad market is believed to be down about 3-4 per cent year on year in the first half of 2013 – not the fall some had feared, but still tough going.

Core to Darcey’s vision is the belief that people will pay for quality content online. Indeed, The Times now claims to have 140,000 digital subscribers – mainly for the tablet edition – a rise of 13,000 since the start of the year. On average, they spend 40 minutes on the app, similar to the amount of time readers spend with the print edition.

For Darcey, the former BSkyB boss who knows the value of loyal, engaged subscribers, such dwell time is crucial for both retention rates and advertisers.

The ability to charge for premium content, especially on tablets, has not escaped the attention of the leaders at Daily Mail and General Trust either. With Mail Online, the group has long been a flag-bearer for the mass-reach, free approach to digital content, but it too is in the process of trying to build paying subscribers.

'Strategically, reducing News UK’s reliance on advertising is one way
to create a more resilient business'

DMGT is about to begin a new push into paid digital content with the launch of its Mail on Sunday Plus tablet edition this weekend. The app will launch on the iPad at £9.99 per month, with an Android version to follow. It will feature content from The Mail On Sunday, and You and Event magazines, as well as bespoke commercial and editorial video content. It follows the launch of the Mail Plus tablet edition earlier this year.

Elsewhere, The Sun puts up its paywall next month, while The Telegraph launched a Kindle Fire edition this week at £9.99 per month and is said to be "very pleased" with the first few months of its new metered website.

However, the free model is not dead yet. I’m told the phenomenon that is Mail Online will launch in Australia within days, hot on the heels of Guardian Australia.

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