Thoughts on Sun+ paywall and brands becoming media companies

I was lucky enough to be invited to the Sun+ blogger event held at News UK offices yesterday. The event was hosted by News UK CEO Mark Darcey and we were given a glimpse into the Sun+ paywall, what it offers readers, what it means for the Sun (print, desktop and tablet) and, more interestingly for me, the Goals app.

For a more detailed wrap up of the media implications of the paywall, there are some good analysis here and here.

For me there were a couple of takeaways (amongst the actually takeaways of Wayne Rooney’s biography, a notebook and a quirky USB thingy).

Firstly, it’s clear the popular phenomena ‘digital transformation’ is weaving it’s way through the media industry. When the Times launched it’s paywall back in 2010, it was met with much scepticism. The world has moved on dramatically since then. We all have tablets now. Wi-fi is pretty much wherever we need it. And more recently 4G means a much better browsing  experience. We’re much less ‘suspicious’ about paying for things online.

Against this backdrop, the Sun+ team is unlikely to face the kind of uproar the Times team did (Also being part of the same means they won’t have to go far to learn their lessons.) Much of that uproar was around would people be prepared to pay for news they could get for free and what impact it would have on circulation.

While there is certainly still some debate on the ‘paying for news’ aspect, Mike Darcey (News UK CEO) made a very interesting point on the circulation discussion. Yes there will be a drop off in figures. But why is that a bad thing? In the corporate world, we constantly tell brands it’s not about the number of ‘likes’ but the quality of fans. And that’s the point many media companies are coming round to. Who cares about a 32 million uniques if the majority of them only read one article occasionally and leave? (And I’m actually one of those).

My second takeaway is related to that. Brands and companies are very keen to become media companies so it’s very interesting to see how media companies are innovating themselves. Newspapers have for years prided themselves on really knowing and understanding their audiences. What makes them tick, what makes them angry, what makes them buy more papers. of course, delivering relevant content is a key component but for me, getting under the skin of your audience is really what it means for a brand to become like a media company. The other aspect media companies have is a strong sense of who they are and who they are not. Far too often, companies don’t really know what they stand for and what they don’t stand for. This really needs to change if brands are to adopt the media company model.

All in all it will be very interesting to see how the Sun+ move goes. The team have lots of ideas about how to evolve the offering over time. Now I must check out their Goals app to see if Arsenal have signed anyone….