The Daily Mirror has unveiled an aggressive campaign to capitalise on arch-rival the Sun moving behind a digital paywall, in a bid to hoover up as many as 27 million users who are likely to defect in search of free news websites.
Simon Fox, the chief executive of parent company Trinity Mirror, said the Daily Mirror is running a prominent campaign on the Mirror.co.uk home page with the line “The best things in life are free” to appeal to disaffected Sun website users.
Fox added that the company was in a strong position to benefit from users who do not want to pay, pointing out that when the Times and Sunday Times were put behind a pay wall they lost 90% of web traffic.
“We are clearly looking forward to welcoming any previous Sun website users that don’t want to pay for access,” Fox said. “It is an interesting move. It has been the case that about 10% of traffic will remain [following the introduction of a paywall] so that means about 27 million [browsers] will be looking for another home.”
The Sun reported 29.6 million monthly browsers, versus the Mirror’s 29.3 million, according to the latest officially audited ABC traffic figures for June.
While Rupert Murdoch’s re-entry into the weekend tabloid market with the launch of the Sun on Sunday last year hurt Trinity Mirror, the introduction of a paywall could prove a major boon for the publisher’s digital strategy.
” It could be a win-win for both of us,” Fox said. “They want a smaller size audience paying, we want a bigger one free.”
Trinity Mirror reported total digital revenues of £20.8m in the first six months of 2013, an 8% year-on-year fall.
But the publisher was hit by a 26% slump in digital recruitment revenues, which fell to £5.3m. Fox said this was the result of a bad strategy decision which has caused “self-inflicted wounds”.
The company decided to centralise its recruitment sales, a move that caused it to “lose touch with the markets we were serving”. He said recruitment sales have now been returned to each local UK market.
A plus is that digital advertising revenues, upon which Trinity Mirror is banking as part of its online strategy, rose 15.1% year on year.
Since the arrival of Fox, who joined from HMV in September last year, and the promotion of Lloyd Embley to editor-in-chief of the Daily Mirror and Sunday Mirror in October, there has been a major revitalisation of the publisher’s previously lethargic digital strategy.
The Mirror Group Digital website network has surged in popularity, fuelled by a new digital focus for coverage of events such as the Grand National, exclusive videos and content such as the Sunday People’s Nigella Lawson picture scoop.
Last month the publisher unveiled a strategy to double its digital editorial staff, and increase the number of web stories published per week to 2,000 on Mirror.co.uk.
The Mirror website is already on course to overtake Sun.co.uk in terms of UK monthly unique users in July, the final month before the paywall launch, according to Nielsen figures seen by publishing industry specialist Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis. ABC traffic figures, the metric used by the UK publishing industry, for last month will be published in August.
“The Mirror overtaking the Sun confirms that it needs a new strategy,” McCabe said. “The Sun can’t let the situation lie, it is about getting its confidence back. There is no point trying to copycat a Mail Online model now, they have captured that [advertiser funded] market.”
McCabe has forecast that Sun+ will need to attract at least 300,000 paying subscribers to hit the revenue level News UK would consider to be a success over the next two to three years.
McCabe added that he believed News UK will be thinking about a “£50m challenge” in terms of annual revenue and aim to get that level – roughly where Mail Online is now with its free, advertiser-funded strategy – in the next few years.
“The Sun will want to be targeting that [revenue level] from its subscription-based model, to play in that ballpark,” he said. “They will definitely get take up. It is an attractive product and service, especially for football fans.”
• To contact the MediaGuardian news desk email email@example.com or phone 020 3353 3857. For all other inquiries please call the main Guardian switchboard on 020 3353 2000. If you are writing a comment for publication, please mark clearly “for publication”.
- Sun paywall: Daily Mirror launches aggressive campaign to lure web users (theguardian.com)
- The Sun Sets Behind a Paywall (mspublishing.wordpress.com)
- Trinity Mirror to double digital staff (guardian.co.uk)