Sunday Times to publish on stand-alone, paid-for website

August 4, 2009 reports that the Sunday Times is due to launch a stand alone website, separate from that of the Times, and access to the content would charge the user. Editors web blog details the current situation for the Sundays:

Currently, the Times titles, including the Sunday edition, are merged together on the Web for the sake of attracting large numbers of people to the one site. Most of the UK’s quality newspapers operate in a similar vein and include the Guardian, Telegraph and Independent, which currently house both their weekday and weekend editions under the one same virtual roof. Given the popularity of weekend editions, then, a new standalone site is likely to affect the traffic of the original. Although, it is possible that if News International gets the balance between charging and offering content free right, the traffic of the two different sites combined, could turn out to be greater in the long run.

PaidContent is sceptical of whether a separate website for a Sunday paper would be successful:

But can a Sunday newspaper website ever work? The paper publishes the sort of content news execs feel confident about charging for: exclusive news, columnists, features and the rest, published just once a week. Although, you can read similar news from other Sunday papers online for free and the title doesn’t have the same must-have niche news that successfully sells online.

The Press Gazette gives a little analysis of how this move may fit into Newscorps wider strategy:

The launch of a stand-alone Sunday Times website underlines News International’s contrasting approach to national newspaper publishing.

The Telegraph Group, Independent Newspapers and Guardian News and Media have merged their daily and Sunday newspapers online – and largely integrated their daily and Sunday editorial teams. But News International’s Sun, News of the World, Sunday Times and Times remain complete editorial independence from each other.

However Nicole Green, a freelance journalist in London, feels the nature of Sunday papers is enough for a paid for, Sunday paper website to fall on its face:

Most people I know savour the Sunday papers, spending lazy mornings (and afternoons) over coffee, losing their breakfast table under reams of newsprint and fighting over supplements. This image loses some romance if you imagine perching on a swivel chair with the rest of the household, scrabbling over a mouse and spilling croissant on your keyboard.

Maybe this isn’t true of everyone, maybe most people will be willing to drag themselves out of bed on Sunday to look at a computer screen. I doubt it somewhat.

Shane Richmond, Communities Editor at the Telegraph, (via Nicole Green) expresses his scepticism on a number of well-worn arguments, and also this gem:

Separating a Sunday newspaper from its daily sister seems like a recipe for online disaster to me. Will the new, stand-alone Sunday Times update on a weekly basis? If so, will it release its new edition on Sundays, when web traffic is low, or earlier, potentially damaging print sales, or later, giving readers little reason to buy? Does going weekly force the paper into competition with the Economist and the Spectator and can a generalist publication win those battles? If the paper updates daily it will end up competing with its sister title and risks becoming the ‘premium’ version of the Times, potentially damaging the daily.

As Fee or Free has reported, Rupert Murdoch has already voiced his desire to seriously consider charging for content, including potentially news. An additional problem with a separate website is that of topics and linking: would all the articles on Israel and Palestine for example in the Sunday Times, link to articles in the Times – a separate site? Would this work the other way round, or would it simply create a pay wall within what was previously a converged, seamless website? The second question is whether the Sunday Times is perceived as seperate enough from the Times to avoid the feeling of paying for one day a week’s worth of the same newspaper – if this is true for any paper, it’s likely to be true for the Sunday Times (see the above Press Gazette report). But it’s unlikely to be adequate.

The Sunday Times has produced substantial amounts of quality, investigate reporting over its history, often alongside campaigns which are unmatched in the broadsheet press. Putting its content behind a pay wall could potentially jeopardise this reputation – or enhance it, by raising revenue to spend on journalism. But are any of the Sunday papers of sufficently high quality that users would pay for a weekly publication, while receiving similar coverage throughout the rest of the week – especially now that the Saturday editions are almost as thick as those you buy the day after?