LONDON: Newspaper publisher Trinity Mirror is trialling a digital halfway house between erecting a paywall and relying solely on online advertising as it explores different business models.
For £2.99 a month, online readers of the Mirror can view content on the site without encountering any advertising – an experience already open to users who have downloaded a free adblocker.
"For some people it's about integrity and honest,” Zoe Harris, group marketing director at Trinity Mirror, told Marketing Week. "If they value your content enough they think 'why should I get it for free?'”
"We know some people like our content best, have a real affinity to what we stand for and want to protect the journalistic values of the Mirror in this instance.”
More generally, Harris explained that the idea of an ad-free subscription service was part of an "appetite … to look at different business models and try new things, see what works, and then be perfectly prepared that if the demand isn't as big as [we might have hoped], to try something else.
"But if it works well, then we can roll it out across the whole portfolio and push it more heavily,” she added.
That is similar to the approach taken by The Washington Post, which saw its readership levels across its new-media properties surge during 2016. While interest in the presidential election campaign was a factor, Beth Diaz, the title's VP/Audience Development and Analytics, highlighted how sampling multiple routes to engagement has also been a key to success.
"Our philosophy is to take every opportunity to experiment," she told a recent conference as she recounted the title's experiences using chatbots, the "Distributed Web", Amazon Echo, Google's Progressive Web App and Uber.
Trinity Mirror's move comes as a UK cross-industry initiative aimed at creating a single newspaper advertising sales operation looks increasingly unlikely to bear fruit this year as participating publishers have yet to agree a submission to regulators on how such a body would be structured and how revenues would be shared.
"It still grumbles on,” a person close to the discussions told The Drum. "The conversations continue with all the remaining partners. But there are regulation problems, so the Autumn  launch is very ambitious because of how long it takes the Competition & Markets Authority to approve anything.”
The amount invested to secure ad space across newsbrands' digital and print properties fell 9.8% to £1.1bn in 2016, according to preliminary estimates from the AA/WARC UK Expenditure Report. However, digital ad revenues were thought to have be up 2.1% last year, and are expected to rise by a similar rate in 2017.
Data sourced from Marketing Week, The Drum; additional content by Warc staff