How The Sunday Times ramped up its focus on subscription monetization

The Sunday Times (from the U.K.) is a great example of a publication which has launched a new look for their website using many new bells and whistles for enticing subscriptions. This is its most substantial refresh in decades and focuses squarely on increasing its subscriber base.

What is a paywall?

There are 2 types: Hard and soft

  1. The Sunday Times digital publication offers online content that has a hard paywall right off the bat. The publication gives the reader a ‘preview’ of each article (you can read a paragraph), but for the ‘full read’ a reader needs to pay (more on that later). No free articles. Benefit: requires payment to read articles. Negative: Articles do not rank well in Google search or get shared in Facebook etc.
  2. Other publications offer a few articles for ‘free’ (metered paywall) to preview articles before subscribing. A metered paywall is essentially giving the reader X number of free articles over a Y time frame… for example: 3 free articles per week. Benefits: Gives the readers a free taste, articles show up in Google search, and get shared in Facebook etc., and if the reader wants to read more, encourages subscribing.

What can your digital publication learn from them? Let’s take a look at their subscription offerings and their methods for getting readers to click SUBSCRIBE.

How the Sunday Times promotes their subscriptions

The Sunday Times offers a digital subscription offer (or what they call a ’pack’) which is easy to swallow: 1 British Pound per week for 12 weeks. The ‘small print’ does indicate that after this 12 week introductory offer it jumps to 6 Pounds per week. Even that price is just a few cups of coffee from your favorite corner cafe. The Sunday Times has other ‘packs’ that offer additional benefits at a range of prices, but “The Digital Pack” is the most economical, at least at the start. They are definitely going after different types of subscribers – with three main packs. Their introductory offer is too hard to pass up. There are other offers/packs, which are a little harder to find, for students and for those who only want to see the Sunday Times, but the three main packs are easy to understand with a range of prices.


The site serves up subscription offers in multiple ways – great because a reader won’t miss the option to subscribe – and not-so-great because it may be a turnoff to brand new readers checking out their content.

Let’s take a closer look:

1. Header ad

The top of homepage has a well crafted subscription offer in the header. Nice place for this type of ‘ad’.


2. Free preview bar

The free preview bar underneath the main navigation menu that makes it clear that the reader is seeing a ‘preview’ of the publication and won’t be able to read all of their articles unless they subscribe.


3. Article slide in nag

Subscription nag popup (see below: popping out from the left side of the web page) on article pages. If you use the WordPress platform, you can use ZEEN101’s Article Countdown Nag add-on to Leaky Paywall to set this up on your site.


4. In article teaser and subscription callout

In a full article there is a subscription callout after a few paragraphs of text. The text fades out just above the subscription image.

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It’s clear this approach to selling subscriptions is catching fire with publishers. If you are using our free Leaky Paywall plugin plugin for WordPress, implement some of the tactics above to attract more paying subscribers.

Source: News: The Sunday Times Magazine relaunches this weekend: InPublishing

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