Knowledge: Case Studies

News UK’s Peter Evia Rhodes explains how using customer behavior and data science in marketing helped turn around The Times’ fortunes.

Cast your mind back to 2010 when The Times announced that it would put its online “paper” behind a paywall. The general reaction to this news was, shall, we say lukewarm. Because much of web content is free, and consumers have that expectation, many commentators said it wouldn’t work. Co-founder of Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales reportedly called it “a foolish experiment.”

Eight years on, The Times and the Sunday Times reached 500,000 subscribers (June 2018), with digital-only subscriptions overtaking print for the first time, up 20 per cent from the previous year to 255,000. It also boasts a product that is the envy of rival publishers. But proving the nay-sayers wrong hasn’t been all plain sailing. Initially, numbers weren’t good as Peter Evia-Rhodes, Head of Engagement, Operations and Retention explains.

“The thoughts across the industry were that a paywall were ludicrous, they simply won’t work,” recalls Peter. But Chris Duncan (currently managing director of The Times and The Sunday Times) drove the change in News UK and across the industry. He stuck to his guns and went for it.

“In all honesty, the first six months were nowhere near what they had expected or hoped. The retention rates were chunky and there were a lot of one-off visits. There was a recognition in the business that there was some serious work to be done.”

Case study – News UK, Peter Evia Rhodes