Paywalls were not popular when they were introduced by The Times in 2010. On the contrary. And the starkest opponents were those within News UK.
”We almost had a revolt in the newsroom when we decided to build a paywall and ask readers to pay for content. Journalists hated the idea, because they thought their articles would no longer reach a wide audience,” said David Dinsmore who has been director of operations for almost a decade at News UK, which publishes both the Sun and The Times.
Within the first two years, The Times reached 100,000 subscribers, and since then there has been a steady increase every year. Twelve years in, the figure is 445,000.
“Revenue from digital platforms has grown 6.5 times over the last 10 years, and now no one is complaining as it helps finance our newsroom,” he told a sold-out crowd at INMA Media Innovation Week. The conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, is sponsored by ArcXP, FT Strategies, Google News Initiative, Meta, and Piano.
Over the years, there has been some discussion about the paywall, and generally management has been firm about keeping a tight wall with very little free content. However, recently there has been some discussion about the option of letting users access more free content to reach new audiences.
Today The Times gets 65% of its digital revenue from subscriptions.
He’s proud of the quality of news and company’s product, highlighting lifestyle content such as fashion and travel as “the envy” of other media organizations.
The company’s own metrics show that 38% pay for News & World content and 31% pay for Lifestyle. Business accounts for 8%, Sports for 6%, and Comment for 5%.
“But we shouldn’t underestimate the value of the Comment section,” he said. “In a world that’s as complicated as ever, people are looking for rational explanations and edited comments to understand what’s going on.”
Bring in the experts
The Times is a publication with a 250-year legacy in print. But over the last few years, News UK has expanded into podcast and radio. Sports podcasts especially have become a successful platform and a way to reach new audiences.
But throughout that process, the company has learned that sometimes it’s not just enough to want to become a multimedia company. It also requires very specific knowledge.
“We learned that we didn’t really get it right until we brought in experts, who had true understanding of radio as a platform,” Dinsmore said.