How do The Sun, The Times, The Guardian, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal manage subscriptions through their mobile news apps?

I've taken a tour through each, despite their slightly different paywall or subscription models. See which you think is finessed and which could do better.

For more information on publishing check out the publishing tag on the blog.

1. The Sun

The app opens the very basic sign-in page below and that’s your lot. No call-to-action to join Sun+ and access the paid-for content.

There are no details about the free trial available from the website or even about pricing.

sun mobile app 

When I hit ‘Forgotten password?’ (for want of an alternative button) nothing happens. 

A missed opportunity here for The Sun. The Guardian app allows payment via the App Store, whilst it seems with Sun+, one must sign up with PayPal or bank card online, then log-in within the app. 

The web page encouraging sign-up, outside of the app, is shown below for good measure (just the above-the-fold content shown). Click through to see it yourself. There’s lots of information, although it appears that the text above the fold is actually in picture format. 

Scrolling down there are some useful FAQs, but price and list of benefits are not included in the first pane you see.

More to be done here then, too.

times subscription landing page 

2. The Times

It’s a similar story to The Sun, over at The Times, which isn’t surprising given both newspapers are part of News UK.

The app presents a log-in screen and nothing else. Pretty poor.

the times mobile app 

Things are better over on the website though.

In the screenshot below, it’s fairly clear I’m viewing a preview version of The Times’ content and there’s a clear pink call-to-action. 

the times website 

Scrolling down the article, I’m given a taster before it fades out and a big green block intercedes telling me about the trial offer.

This time it’s clear as day. Price, call-to-action, devices, T&Cs. 

the times subscription landing page

When I click subscribe I’m given a lovely scrolling experience with changing imagery, great copy, colours, rollover effects, offers and video. There’s live chat and telephone number options, too, although it must be said that the page didn’t resize in my browser.

On the whole it’s great, though again it seems the app is simply a value-add and isn’t being used to draw in new customers that happen to download it first.

Click through the snapshot below to take a look at the subscribe landing page.

The Times subscription scrolling landing page

3. The Guardian

The Guardian has the advantage of not being paywalled, which means the mobile news app (see David Moth's review) offers good functionality and content for free, as well as a premium product.

The premium mobile news product is advertised extremely slickly, as you’d expect from the new Guardian app, which is colourful with crisp imagery and easy-to-read text, as well as containing lovely micro-interactions.

The only thing that strikes me is that one doesn’t often come across the adverts for the premium service. If you click ‘settings’ in the menu and then ‘subscription’, you’ll receive the premium sales page.

Also if you select ‘crosswords’, you’ll get the subs section, too, as crosswords are one of the paid benefits. Aside from this, I haven’t come across the premium subs page anywhere else.

I would expect to see it pop up in ads a bit more around the site, especially as one of the benefits of premium is no ads. Perhaps the bottom line is benefited more by selling this inventory.

Extracts and previews from Guardian Books come with premium but within the Culture section I saw no calls to action.

the guardian mobile app guardian mobile app

guardian mobile app guardian mobile app

It’s worth making clear here that I’m slightly comparing apples with oranges. The Guardian’s premium mobile news product can be bought separately from other products. A full subscription includes the physical paper, tablet editions and the live news app for mobile.

The Guardian simply unbundles all of this (and there’s an extra subscription available, too, with events invites and the like).

Even so, it seems like The Times and The Sun could provide some content in their respective mobile apps.

4. New York Times

The New York Times differs in displaying an interstitial when I first access the news app.

Then, when I access any story through the app, I can see a clear call-to-action to subscribe at the top of the screen.

new york times news app subscribe to the nyt

Clicking this CTA, I’m given an overlay which works nicely, as shown below with three clear options for subscription, similar to The Guardian.

I can click ‘learn more’ to be taken to a help web page. 

nyt mobile app overlay

Unlike The Guardian, I can pay for any of the NYT’s subscriptions from this news app and pay via the App Store.

The news app sits in my newsstand in iOS, unlike The Guardian’s app.

5. Wall Street Journal

The WSJ is unique in showing a key icon on each story in its news app that is behind the paywall. 

wsj app

Clicking one of these articles gives an interstitial with clear calls to action to either log-in of to start a free trial, which would segue into a paid subscription.

That’s a clever tactic and one that works well for Netflix and other subscription media services. 

Again, I can purchase this subscription via Apple.

wall street journal mobile 

This is a very straightforward method and one doesn’t let you forget about the subscription option. It’s very successful apart from in one regard – there’s no mention of the subscription giving access by tablet or desktop, which I can get online. There’s also no mention of paying for digital and print on desktop with bank card, which I can do also online. 

wsj subscription page on desktop 

Elsewhere, see Christopher Ratcliff's roundup of WSJ's social media activity.

That’s the lot for now. Hope that’s giving you some ideas for designing your own subs pages on mobile, or indeed ideas for paywall content. 

Ben Davis

Published 23 July, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

1244 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (2)


Tom Reding

Hi Ben,

It's not clear if these are native or web apps. If they are native apps distributed via the app stores then there are reasons beyond UX that effect what you can include in your approach.

For example, let's assume The Sun example is a native iOS app. The Sun may not wish to offer the subscription as an in-app purchase so they avoid the 30% platform fee that Apple charge. Now this contravenes one of Apple's guidelines:

"11.12 Apps offering subscriptions must do so using IAP, Apple will share the same 70/30 revenue split with developers for these purchases, as set forth in the Program License Agreement"

However, remembering that the App Store is a primarily designed as a showcase for what Apple's devices can do, it's conceivable that they make exceptions and waive this guideline for the more customer-valued, established players - Netflix being another example of an app that breaks this rule.

Regardless, I've never seen Apple budge on the subsequent guideline that states:

"11.13 Apps that link to external mechanisms for purchases or subscriptions to be used in the App, such as a "buy" button that goes to a web site to purchase a digital book, will be rejected"

This means that The Sun or The Times for example are playing safe with what they place on the login screen for good reason, they have avoided the most costly of the guidelines, why tempt fate on a more minor point? While the experience does suffer as you say, it's not a bad trade off.


about 4 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff


Thanks for clearing that up.

So I guess the Sun and Times apps aren't even allowed to hint at a subscription available online, let alone link to it.

It would be helpful if it was made clearer in the app store that this app is 'free' but the content isn't.

I'm more and more of the opinion that these strict paywalls are a bad thing. Watching Anna Watkins from Guardian Labs talking at the IAB yesterday, I think the idea of openness in journalism is still essential.

The debate seems to have moved on to how to create content partnerships that don't fool or disappoint the reader.

Cheers for reading and providing clarity.

about 4 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.