Why people are still prepared to pay for news: Times and Sun CEO Mike Darcey on why he will be building more paywalls
Mike Darcey, the CEO of News UK, the company behind The Times and The Sun will defend his company's introduction of paywalls later today saying they have confounded the predictions of critics to become a financial success.
He will tell the Times CEO summit later this morning how the paywall model first adopted by The Times and The Sunday Times in 2010, and soon to be extended to The Sun, has now been widely imitated by rival publishers.
"The Times and Sunday Times were among the first in the world to successfully establish a subscriber model based on a wholly paid-for proposition – and The Sun is soon to follow, as are several other papers in the UK and overseas," he will tell his audience.
"Many people still argue that charging for newspapers online will never work. I say three things.
"First, it is working. Second, that should be no great surprise as charging for news is not a new idea. And third, if still in doubt, there is already a good model for how this works in pay TV.
"Taking each of those in turn, first, as I say, it is working. The Times and Sunday Times moved to become paid-for across all formats in 2010. Initially thought of as a crazy move, it has been successful and is now flattered by widespread imitation.
"Looking at the Times, we already have 140,000 paying subscribers, mainly on the tablet, and it’s growing.
"Just as important, these tablet subscribers spend on average 40 minutes with the tablet edition, very similar to the amount of time spent reading the paper copy.
"So this is a fully engaged experience, not the flitting around associated with free news websites: good news for subscriber retention, and also for our advertisers.
"But the key insight comes from looking at total paid sales: the sum of casual print, plus print subscribers, plus digital subscribers. And on this basis the Times is ahead of 2010, and there are very few titles that can boast that record in recent years.
"Second, charging for news is hardly a revolutionary concept. When people talk about the Times going behind the pay-wall, I remind them that the Times has been behind the pay-wall since 1785, it has been a paid for proposition all that time, and there have been free news alternatives all that time also.
"Those free alternatives have certainly evolved, from the town crier – free at the point of consumption – to free newssheets, to radio, to television, to 24 hour television news. Competition from free is not a new idea.
"And throughout that time, the paid-for news industry has had to make sure its offering is distinctive, differentiated from those free options, offering added value and articulating why it is worth paying for.
"And that remains the game today.
"If there is anything that is odd, it is quite how long the idea persisted in some quarters that it was possible to ask one set of people to keep paying – for printed news – while at the same time giving precisely the same content away for free to others, in the hope that the first group wouldn’t notice, or at least wouldn’t react.
"Seems pretty silly when put like that, and many publishers are moving away from that sort of idea. To those who are holding out, I wish them the best of luck.
"My third point is that there is already a good model for how this can work in the pay-TV business, here in the UK and in many other territories."
"Before joining News UK I worked at Sky for 15 years and in the early days some scoffed at the idea that someone could charge for television when there was a free alternative readily available on terrestrial channels.
"But Sky and others have shown that if you build a strong relationship with your customers, provide distinctive quality content they can’t get for free elsewhere, if you surround it with a great customer experience as regards technology and service, then it is perfectly possible to build a large and loyal subscriber base.
"I believe that is also true for strong news brands."
News UK, was recently formed when News Corporation split its publishing and television businesses.