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News Corp. To Give Sunday Times The Free Treatment For Christmas This Year

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Last year, News International made The Times and The Sun newspapers free on Christmas and used the opportunity to promote their respective iPad apps to all those folks who got them as presents. This year, the UK publisher, owned by News Corp. (NSDQ: NWS), will give the same treatment to its last remaining Sunday publication, the Sunday Times, offering both its Android app and iPad app for free to promote tablet use of its products.

News International says that this will be the first time in its 190-year history that the newspaper has been published on Christmas Day, which this year falls on a Sunday. It says that back in 1912, the company decided not to publish a printed edition of the newspaper in order to “delivery drivers, newsagents and paperboys the day off.” Now it says it’s keeping with that tradition while kicking off a new one: this edition will be digital-only, not printed.

The shift to publishing a digital-only edition also is a reflection of the declines of the print product for newspaper publishers. According to the most recent figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulation, the Sunday Times’ printed circulation for November 2011 was 967,615, down by 8.06 percent on the year, and down by 0.04 percent compared to October 2011.

The Sunday Times says that the retailer John Lewis has signed on as the main sponsor for the day’s edition, which normally costs £1.99 per issue within the free-to-download app.

In addition to the newspapers’ regular features, and the usual onslaught of end-of-year lookbacks/look-aheads, the Sunday Times is taking note of the fact that iPad users are keen on puzzles and games and introducing a new feature in the Christmas edition: News International says it will use the free app to try out a new puzzle format, which it describes as an “interactive quiz which includes video, audio and ‘rub and reveal’ picture questions as well as instant answers at the tap of a button.”

It’s not clear how many people use the Sunday Times app today; the last reported figures were from the end of June 2011, when it was reported that 31,000 copies were downloaded on average every week between March and June. Its sister edition, The Times, reported 35,000 downloads daily at the same time.