On 30th November 2015 The Sun paywall will come crumbling down.
It’s fairly obvious why Rebekah Brooks made the decision; publishers are nothing without the reach of social media and this U-turn perhaps proves that subscription models need to be flexible, balanced carefully with (increasingly native) advertising revenue.
Pageviews are the oxygen that keeps every revenue flame burning. But rather than me harping on about advertising and social media, I thought I’d tell the story of The Sun paywall in statistics alone. Here we go…
Time behind paywall
(1st August 2013 to 30th November 2015)
Cost of monthly Sun+ subscription
Daily unique pageviews
(figures from ABC newspaper circulation)
December 2013 = 117,000
December 2014 = 225,000
Estimated Sun+ subscribers needed to break even
250,000 to 300,000
Percentage of all online publishers’ content referrals from social media
Q4 2013 = 22.71%
Q4 2014 = 31.24%
Print advertising decline
In October 2015, The Guardian reported that print advertising in the sector had been down by as much as 30% in the preceding six months.
Newspaper annual digital revenue
N.B. an estimated 40% of Guardian digital revenue is from advertising. The Sun revenue is not split out, so I have multiplied subscribers by £7.99 monthly subscription cost and scaled up to annual revenues (this is obviously a significant overestimate, given the number of cheaper subscriptions taken out via The Sun’s partnership with O2).
Also note that Guardian financial year end is in March, Mail Online in September. Mail Online figure for 2014/2015 is an estimate.
Cost of The Sun’s Premier League highlights deal
£30m over three years.
People watching Vine videos online every month
>100m (August 2014)
Daily Vine video loops
>1.5bn (January 2015, Jason Toff, Vine)
With Vine a popular method of watching sports highlights, including near real-time goal replays, Twitter has likely eaten into the value of the Sun+ highlights package.
The Sun ‘Dream Team’ (fantasy football) subscribers
Dream Team reach on socialmedia
276m. Dream Team has been a notable success for The Sun and will likely continue to grow. The Guardian has shown how subscription services (e.g. Guardian SoulMates) can prosper within a free model.
Ad blocker users in the UK
12m (PageFair). This is likely to increase now that iOS is allowing ad blocking technology and sounds a note of caution for online publications that are not diversifying with native ads and subscription products.
Percentage of digital display ad market taken by Google and Facebook
Research by eMarketer in December 2014 estimated that in 2015 Google and Facebook will take 50.8% of the total UK digital advertising revenue (>£1bn).
This is another stat that shows publishers need to be wary of relying solely on advertising revenue, when advertisers are so heavily invested in the major tech platforms.
2015 has seen online newspapers partnering with social platforms (often in a revenue sharing model) and further developing their native advertising products.
Time will tell how The Sun will fare now social media is likely to drive greatly increased pageviews.