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News Of The World’s Closure Brings Abrupt End To One Murdoch Paywall

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When the News of the World disappears from print this Sunday, its digital assets will be going right out the door with it. Or will they? NOTW had been one of the country’s most popular newspapers — with a 27 percent share of the market — and its parent, News Corp.’s News International, had been working hard to take the brand to the same position on digital platforms, and even to make some money out of it in the process with a web paywall and an iPad app that was more expensive than buying the paper version at your local corner shop.

With the move, News Corp (NSDQ: NWS) and News Int. are reported to be laying off anywhere between 200 and 500 employees. “Feeling pretty numb right now,” tweeted Rachel Richardson, who had been named digital editor of the NOTW website, to herald it through its paywall introduction in October 2010.

That particular paywall news experiment — which priced access at £1 per day, or £1.99 for a four-week subscription — is now finished. The site will close down, a spokesperson confirmed to paidContent. No firm answer on the future of the apps.

How well did NOTW, which was very much known as the working man’s newspaper, do as a digital publication? It’s not entirely clear. NOTW had a per-week circulation of 2,657,232 in the month of May, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, equating to a 27 percent share of the market. But News International’s publications, including NOTW, have not been counted by ABCe, ABC’s digital arm, for more than a year now, so online figures are less clear.

There are some clues in the form of research notes from comScore (NSDQ: SCOR), whose analysts claimed back in November that News of the World had lost 40 percent of its traffic when it first went paid-for. Months before that, the analysts had suggested that NOTW was ever only getting a fraction of the audience that the print edition received: some 250,000 online per week versus more than 2.5 million in print.

News International would not comment on whether it intended to launch a replacement Sunday paper — although it seems unlikely that it would let its leading position in the market go so easily — but the web might have given us a clue on how this one might play out: was registered on July 5 to a UK-based individual called “Mediaspring.” That has gotten a lot of people thinking that News International plans to extend the relatively-untarnished Sun to cover Sunday as well — a point raised also by the news service of sister company and broadcaster BSkyB (NYSE: BSY). That may well be the case but anonymous @TheSunonSunday is touting an independent, “hack-free” in its Twitter feed asking for volunteers.

App. Also little in the way of numbers for how many downloads there have been for NOTW’s iPad app.

The app, which was launched in December 2010 and gave a relatively straightforward and conservative print-to-screen version of the newspaper, was actually priced higher than the print edition, at £1.18 per copy. The app itself is free to download, and at the time of this writing, was still on iTunes.