It’s fair to say that tabloid newspapers have had a difficult transition into the digital age.
Popular journalism is everywhere now online and most of it is free. Print circulations have plunged and digital revenue has so far failed to make up for what has been lost.
But Rupert Murdoch’s executive vice president in charge of The Sun Dominic Carter is optimistic about the prospects for tabloid journalism in 2023.
He told Press Gazette’s Future of Media Explained podcast that digital growth is now outpacing print decline at the title. And he spoke to Press Gazette as data from Pamco revealed it is the most widely read UK commercial news brand in print and online.
Carter began his career as a junior sales rep at The Sun in 1991. He has been publisher for a year and has previously been News UK chief commercial officer and group advertising director at the Mirror national titles.
Times have been tough commercially for The Sun in recent years, how are things going commercially for the brand?
“The first thing to say is we are growing revenue. I think the most important thing that we all continue to do, and some more than others, is to continue to invest in professional journalism.
“You stick to the values which you had as a newspaper business. You’ve got to keep innovating and adapting and making sure that you’re still getting in front of customers. And if you do that well and you continue to invest and you produce high-quality journalism and stories that readers want to read, then I think you have a future ahead of you that could you can be very positive about.”
Is digital revenue growing faster than print, and how is print doing (The Sun no longer publishes an ABC figure)?
“It’s still a good circulation, you know, and the reality is, you know what, what we’re trying to do is to make sure that the narrative isn’t about decline.
“Newspapers in that format are declining and that’s just a consumer change, a consumer habit.
“But since the rise of online, especially of mobile, the reality is that newspapers in many ways have never been healthier in terms of reach.
“You just have to adapt to your model and you have to work out how do you make money in that environment.
“I would say quite happily now, quite confidently, the digital revenues are more than offsetting our print revenues, where we see the decline. Our future, we believe, is very healthy.”
Reach has reported both an digital advertising downturn in the last six months and an attention recession online. Are you seeing that?
“To be frank, I don’t recognise it. The most important thing you do is you continue to invest in high-quality journalism. And if you do that, there is no attention recession.
“It’s about getting the right content in front of the right people at the right time and the right platform. We do that incredibly well and it’s the business that we’ve been running for decades.
“We don’t see an attention recession at all.
“In terms of revenue, we are not seeing the same things that some others have talked about.
“We’ve developed some proprietary tech and data [first-party audience data platform Nucleus] that allows us to understand where we’re going to get the greatest consumption and also to understand what our consumers are most likely to want to read next.
“So I think that that has allowed us to continue growing in what others are seeing in recession.
“When the market turns, you could make a decision and say, well, actually I’ll just flood my website with more advertising. That isn’t the solution. The only thing that will do is bring down your yields and ultimately will have an impact on your revenues because it becomes a really bad customer experience.
“We went the other way and we made our sites cleaner, faster and continued to produce high-quality journalism, and therefore we haven’t seen what others are talking about.”
How does The Sun fit in with the other News UK brands (The Times, Sunday Times, Times Radio, TalkSport, Virgin Radio)?
“This business has always been a business that is greater than the sum of its parts.
“We have restructured the business so that we focus on individual brands, we still work across the organisation too. Nucleus is one aspect of that, and Nucleus allows us to understand whether a Virgin Radio listener also happens to be a Times subscriber. That allows us to have a different narrative with our advertiser base. But it also allows us to understand the consumer in a better way.”
How do you keep your team motivated in what continues to be a challenging climate for news media?
“It’s a bit cliched, but you can only focus on the things that you can control. If you focus on those and you focus on the positives and you focus on the opportunity, you will make mistakes along the way, but you’ve just got to clear it up and get on with it and move forward.
“Don’t worry too much about things that go wrong, because actually – when you’re trying hard – things will go wrong. You’re making progress as long as you learn from them.
“So focus on the opportunity ahead of you and make the most of it.
“It’s not about telling people, it’s about showing them and inspiring them that we can do something far greater than we are doing today. I hope that’s how I lead. It’s also about finding your own inspiration, to make sure that you keep pushing forward.
“Don’t see things as barriers, don’t see things as obstacles. Just see them as things that you’ve got to get over. They’re just hurdles and you jump over them and you move on to the next thing.”
With so many brands doing popular journalism in the online space today, what is the point of The Sun in 2023?
“We stand up for those people that don’t have a voice, and we give them a voice. I think if you stick to the values that we always had then we’ll always have a place.
“People may be trying to do popular journalism, but it may be trying to emulate what The Sun’s always done, you know?
“And The Sun’s always captured the zeitgeist. The Sun’s always been at the heart of British society. The Sun’s always been able to deliver what the customer wants, what the reader wants, and communicate to them in a way that they understand. And I think if you stick with doing that, then you will be successful.
“If you try and copy what we do then you’re going to fail. Because there is only one Sun out there and this is it.”
- Monthly print readership (Pamco): 6.2 million
- Monthly UK online reach (Ipsos iris): 26.8 million
- Print circulation: Confidential, but believed to be less than the Daily Mail’s 784,000
- Turnover (to June 2021): £324m (down 2%)
- EBITDA (after exceptional items): £12.9m
- Number of editorial staff (average in 2020/21): 543
- Key platforms: The Sun print edition, Dream Team, Fabulous, Sun Bingo, The Sun digital edition, The Sun website (UK and US), The Sun Vegas (online casino).
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