In 2014 Times Newspapers reported its first operating profit for 13 years despite having been widely panned, in particular by former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger, when it first put up its paywall in 2010.
Lessons learned over the six years of operating a subscription-based online model at The Times and Sunday Times include not undercutting print with low-cost digital access, according to Digital Editor, Alan Hunter.
“Broadly speaking one of the lessons is make sure you don’t cannibalise your print sales by making your digital offering too cheap. Billing is also a very difficult thing to get right,” he said.
One of the biggest changes from a free to subscription-based model was a “change of ethos”, added Hunter.
“You need to really serve your customers digitally – they’re not just casual buyers, they are subscribers.
“That is a big responsibility for us as the Times and the Sunday Times, to make sure our relationship with them at every point in their time with us is befitting of the standard we set in our journalism.”
He said The Times and Sunday Times has 413,000 subscribers across print and digital, of which 182,000 are digital-only subscribers.
Last month the Times introduced “registered access”, giving people who sign up to the website the chance to view two articles for free per week.
It’s a small crack of light in an otherwise solid paywall – with access to digital content costing from £6 a week.
“One of the reasons we have introduced registered access for readers on the web titles is because we want to increase our number of subscribers and we are constantly looking at how we tinker with the subscriber funnel to get more people in.
“We do experiments like this all the time.
“We recently started allowing our subscribers to share full articles from our tablet edition and that’s worked very well for us and got many, many more people reading our content and then going on to subscribe.”