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News International is giving a “no-comment” to Wednesday morning’s speculation it’s planning to separate The Sunday Times from Times Online and put it behind a pay wall. Guardian.co.uk cited anonymous sources as saying a new strategy could be three months away but, with so little information, something doesn’t sound quite right – not least that such a move wouldn’t make much sense…
The daily Times site, launched in 1996, used to be separate from its Sunday counterpart but, like most newspapers over the last two years, has been integrated such that there’s no online distinction. Re-divesting Sunday Times by taking it pay-for would deprive Times Online of much of its content – but, with the UK Sunday press famously flimsier on accuracy, most of Times Online’s best content actually goes live on weekdays.
As News International told me, it is investigating paidcontent options, following Mr Murdoch’s pronouncements last month, but it’s still early days: “We’re not making any comment about whether a standalone site is being planned nor whether there would be paidcontent element for that site. We’re looking at options for monetising our online propositions because we really value our content – but we haven’t taken a decision on that yet.” Even Guardian.co.uk’s own report acknowledges “a final decision … has not been made”. Times Online already charges for crosswords and its historical archives.
One thing we do know for sure – News International’s digital strategy director Zach Leonard (pictured), who became MD for the group’s digital graduate recruitment business Milkround last month, won’t be replaced by the group. Instead, online leadership from each individual newspaper will report in to Katie Vanneck’s new Customer Direct unit, we were told.