The Sun aint going to shine any more. Unless you pony up £104.00 a year.

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Yesterday, the front cover of The Sun featured a montage of UK landmarks. Resembling a rather corny tourist poster, it was accompanied by the headline 'This Is Our Britain'.

Now, I'm quite aware The Sun is rarely shy when it comes to jingoistic, tub-thumping splashes - one only has to recall 'Gotcha', 'Up Yours Delors' and 'Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster' (alright, not 'Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster') - to appreciate their generally patriotic disposition. But this was something different. Rather than a knee-jerk reaction to something about Brussels and banana shapes, this was the start of a campaign to soften readers up to the idea of paying to access The Sun online. Or 'The Sun Plus' as some branding charlie has re-named it. 

Of course, the concept of a Murdoch title throwing up a paywall is nothing new. One by one the Dirty Digger's UK papers have opted  for the model - and not without success.  Digital subscribers to The Times number around 140,000 - putting on 13,000 new customer in the first half of 2013. And The Financial Times (not owned by Rupert), has really made their paywall work, pulling in more than 300,000 subscribers - although many of these licences are bought at a corporate level, to help city traders to do their deeds.

However, The Sun is (and always has been) a different case. For starters, it is a tabloid 'red top' - in the same family of papers as The Mirror and Star. Traditionally targeted at the working class male and notorious for its brash style and topless girls, anyone looking to The Times or FT for a comparative model would be rather foolish. So, The Sun is actually in unchartered territory. Its red-top rivals still offer free access to their sites and the world's most successful, 'tabloid' site -The Mail Online - has no paywall either.

Analysts estimate the paywalled Sun will need to draw 300,000 paying readers to sustain their current advertising revenues (obviously advertisers will be unimpressed if they can no longer access the same audience figures as the free site). So can The Sun Plus deliver?
People will only pay for something - at least in significant numbers - if the product or service they receive in return is worthwhile and good value. For £2.00 a week The Sun Plus is offering its subscribers access to Sun content on tablets, browsers and phones. There are various introductory offers and vouchers in the print edition, but on the whole, that's the deal. What that content includes is the deal breaker.

Presumably, due to the nature of its target demographic, the marketing for The Sun Plus goes heavy on the football. 'See all the goals first' runs one strapline. For the footie fan, this must sound tempting. Unfortunately, The Sun has no exclusive deals in place with the FA to present football imagery and reports exclusively. The goals The Sun Plus will be delivering are the same goals the viewer can see on BBC1's Match Of The Day - available with any valid TV licence. I don't have much interest in sport, but I'm reliably informed there are dozens of apps and sites which will bring you much the same without the paywall. The Mirror's website and (funnily enough) the Sky Sports page are just two.

The advertising is also very focussed on celebrity gossip and the ever-present 'Page 3 Girls'. I'm sorry, but both these attractants are the dampest of squibs. Celebrity gossip? You're kidding, right? We couldn't be more engulfed with this dubious data if we begged for it. I know more about the intimate lives of soap stars, members of girl and boy bands, and bods off Big Brother than I could ever wish - simply by existing in the modern world. Many people would pay to avoid this frippery, rather than consume it. And Page 3? Well, apart from a general feeling that it has become an embarrassing anachronism, how can there possibly be any mileage in trying to persuade blokes to pay to see a female chest? Have The Sun's executives not looked at the internet? Do they not realise exactly how many naked ladies and gentlemen can be viewed, in any number of athletically amorous positions, without paying a penny? A lot, that's how many.

Alongside the marketing, there has also been an intellectual argument for the introduction of the paywall. 'People are prepared to pay 40p for the print issue' said one Sun fellow on the radio, 'Why wouldn't they pay a couple of quid a week for the digital version?'. Well, here's one reason: there is nothing consumers hate more than suddenly having to pay for something which used to be free. Think about on-street parking. Think about rubbish collections. If it was a mistake for papers to give away their content in the first place, then it'll be the toughest of tasks to persuade the public they are the ones to make up for the error.

I have no doubt The Sun Plus will manage to woo quite a few punters. The Sun is a gigantic media brand in this country and has an enormously loyal following (outside Liverpool, that is). Consequently, a certain percentage of those who have been enjoying its online version will simply stump up the pennies.  But 300,000 of them? Without corporate subsidies? And with very little in the way of exclusive content? That will be a soaraway achievement, for sure. 

Magnus Shaw is a writer, blogger and consultant



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