"The newspaper has always been about a bundle and the bundle is getting bigger," said News UK chief executive Mike Darcey, as quoted by Will Sturgeon of The Media Blog. "Our newspaper is already respected for its sports coverage and now we're adding sports clips on web, mobile and tablet to that sports coverage. But you can't unbundle it. I have faith people will still value the journalism."
Blogger Neville Hobson looked into Darcey's love of the content bundle further. As The Sun moves onto new platforms and content – "broadening the bundle, adding distinctive content, exploiting new technology, getting into video, focusing on subscription" – Hobson says the transition will rely on the target market and advertisers recognising it as the "compelling proposition" he believes it to be, while also ensuring that recognition translates into a willingness to pay.
Which is why, says Sturgeon, "looking after a 'hard core' of Sun readers is the priority for News UK in this new age". Darcey accepts that the majority of the 32 million unique visitors the company claims for June will be lost, but points out that they may be casual or overseas readers, continues Sturgeon, whereas "specific, demonstrable demographics" will be more attractive for advertisers.
Hence why The Sun is promoting an "increased focus on sport" and "has clearly recognised the need to differentiate its whole content offering", adds Sturgeon, "before it could expect audience to part with cash online".
On the BBC, Radio 4 Media Show presenter Steve Hewlett said this specialisation could serve the Sun well.
"The closer newspapers are to offering regular news, the easier it is to substitute what they do," he said. "The thing about The Sun is a lot of what they do is not strictly news. A lot of it is entertainment and features and less easy to substitute."
So landing a reported £20 million contract with the Premier League to secure the rights to video highlights on mobile, said Hewitt, plays to The Sun's strengths.
"For Sun readers, many of whom are mad about football, even if you didn't have the rest of what The Sun has to offer, that service, available on your mobile – so you're at Arsenal and somebody scores against United, you think 'I can watch it' – I can kind of see that working."
But, for what is historically the UK's best-selling newspaper, abandoning the print readership would be catastrophic so the Media Briefing's Patrick Smith insists that "News UK wants the smartphone to be the companion to the newspaper, rather than a substitution".
Indeed, The Sun's digital editor Derek Brown told assorted bloggers at a press meeting this week: "We’re not becoming digital first, we realise that we still sell a lot of newspapers every day – we don’t want print readers to feel that they are missing out on something."
This is achieved by having the apps explicitly tied to the newspaper – with QR codes to videos on the Sun+Goals app printed next to match reports and unique daily access codes to the website in each individual paper – a move consultant and blogger Adam Tinworth says could be seen as defensive, in using "digital to shore up print sales".
But for an overall commercial strategy, Smith says advertising and user data are key. The intended relationship created between the 'hard core' of readers and more relevant and responsive digital advertising, such as Paddy Power's "scratchcard" mobile ads, are part of the process in making more "commercial products", he says.
Furthermore, as Sun editor David Dinsmore told Sky News's Jeff Randall of the print and app combination on Sky: "We get the best of both worlds and we will also learn who the readers are because currently they hand over 40p in a shop but we don't know who they are."
User income from the paywall is just one side of the coin, while three years of lessons and experience from The Times puts News UK in a unique position to experiment with Sun+, concludes Smith.
"Innovating early on in this area," he says, "gives it a substantial advantage."
Free daily newsletter
- Culture, collaboration and communication: Digital development at The Times and Sunday Times
- The Times 'moving towards profit' since paywall launch
- NYT Now app to offer tailored content throughout the day
- Lessons from 'one package, one price' paywall in Norway
- Why The Information chose to follow a paywall model