Two More Big U.K. Papers Go Behind Paywalls

Metered Approach Comes to the U.K. for the First Time

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Two of the U.K.'s most popular newspapers, Rupert Murdoch's Sun and the Barclay brothers' Daily Telegraph will put pay walls around their digital products, both said late on Tuesday.

The Sun is set to join its News International stable mate, The Times, behind a full pay wall in September, effectively excluding it from social media.

The move will address the tension between asking customers to pay for print while giving the product away elsewhere, executive said. "This decision comes from a deep-seated belief that it is just untenable to have 2.4 million paying 40p for the Sun at the same time as a bunch of other people are getting it for free," Mike Darcey, CEO of News International, said in a statement.

But it also comes after News International paid $30 million to secure the rights to show Premier League soccer goals and match highlights on the web and on mobile devices -- likely to be a big draw for Sun readers.

The Times started charging for most access to its website three years ago and now has 139,098 digital subscribers as well as 125,087 for The Sunday Times. The print product has a circulation of 393,814 for the daily paper and 875,434 for the Sunday title.

The Daily Telegraph, a favorite with middle-aged conservative Brits, will allow free access to 20 articles a month, making it the first general interest newspaper to go behind a metered pay wall in the U.K. It will charge $30 a year for access to online content and the smartphone app, or $150 a year for the full digital pack, which includes tablet access and loyalty club membership.

Charging make sense but aren't a certain success, said Hugo Drayton, CEO of ad delivery technology company InSkin Media and previously the managing director of the Telegraph Group when the Telegraph first went online in 2004. "I agree with the principle that top quality journalism should be charged for," he said. "The problem is that the world we live in is over-supplied with general news; it's become a commodity. The Times is suffering -- it's disappearing slightly from the conversation. It's a big, big issue."

"A model where you pay per article would be better than committing to a full-blown subscription, which is like a gym membership -- you never really feel you're using it properly," he added.

The Telegraph, which launched a metered model on its international website in November 2012, will offer a one month free trial before starting to charge for content. Nine out of ten people who take a free trial on its international site go on to take out a full subscription, The Telegraph said.

"We want to develop a closer rapport with our digital audience in the U.K., and we intend to unveil a number of compelling digital products for our loyal subscribers in the months ahead," Telegraph editor Tony Gallagher said in a statement.

Other U.K. papers may be demonstrating, however, that free digital access does not necessarily undermine print. The free-to-all Mail Online reached a high of nearly 8 million unique visitors in January, up 13% from December, and increased print sales 1% in the same span. It was a similar story at the Guardian and at the Telegraph.

Publishers have not pushed hard enough on being creative about online advertising, Mr. Drayton said. "The lesson is there's no one single right way," he said. "The world is complicated and you need to offer a smorgasbord of options, because each person has different needs, different expectations, and is prepared to pay different amounts of money. In the future there will be fewer newspapers, but consolidation will offer more opportunity for the survivors to charge properly. Publishers need to have a strategy but you've also got to be pragmatic: to retain a strong, broad audience you need strong, broad solutions."

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