Audience Engagement Digital Publishing
2 mins read

Podcast: The Times’ Alan Hunter on achieving a major digital subscription milestone

The Times of London and Sunday Times’ Head of Digital, Alan Hunter, is the special guest for this latest Media Voices episode.

The Times is infamous for pioneering the hard paywall, a strategy which when introduced in 2010 was dismissed as commercial insanity. Indeed, in 2010, in a debate on BBC Radio 4, Alan Rusbridger, the then editor-in-chief of the Guardian, faced off the then Sunday Times editor John Witherow and described the new digital paywall model as a “vault of darkness” which might generate as few as 60,000 subscribers.

Fast forward eight years and, despite the tinkering of its paywall by offering a small amount of content free to registered readers, The Times has now reached a milestone of 500,000 subscribers across both titles (print & digital). Digital subscribers have now overtaken print subscribers for the first time – with digital-only subscriptions up 20% year on year – marking the past twelve months as the Times’ most successful period since its digital subscription model was launched.

In this podcast, Alan Hunter explains the reasons behind tweaking the Times’ paywall in the hope of increasing readership, why their paywall persistence paid off and how edition-based publishing is more important to their audience than ever before.

Key takeaways include:

  •  Since being voted ‘the most trusted newspaper in Britain’ via a study carried out by Oxford University last month,  which gave The Times a trust score of 6.35 out of 10 (beating competitors including The Guardian, The Independent and The Daily Telegraph on 6.24, 6.05 and 6.02 respectively), Hunter explains the need to occupy the centre ground and uphold quality journalism. With this deep level of reader trust, readers are more likely to subscribe.
  • Hunter explains that product understanding is key, giving the reader what they want rather than keeping traditionally to what newsrooms think readers will want. Hunter uses the example of relaunching The Times digitally in time for the iPad’s launch in 2010 to show how publishers must adapt to suit digital and technological disruption.
  • Registered access model – Introduced in July 2016, Hunter explains how the scheme works and the reasons for implementing it. Astonishingly, Hunter confirms that the scheme has gained more than 3.8 million users since its launch, emphasising the reach that can be achieved if the correct strategy is implemented.

In the news roundup, the gang discusses bad news for the New York Daily News, “bad” news for Facebook, good news for the Guardian and WTF news for Condé Nast and Goop!