Murdoch's Sun tabloid to go behind paywall in Britain

LONDON (AFP) - Britain's top-selling newspaper The Sun, owned by Rupert Murdoch, is to start charging readers for access to its website, a spokeswoman confirmed on Wednesday.

The announcement comes a day after another British newspaper, the right-leaning Daily Telegraph, extended its international paywall to include domestic readers in an attempt to boost falling revenues in the Internet age.

Known for its celebrity scoops and topless "page three" models, The Sun will likely introduce its paywall in the second half of this year, the chief executive of Murdoch's British newspaper wing News International Mike Darcey told a press event late on Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for the Sun said the website would offer "a full and attractive subscription model across digital and print".

"We will be offering our valued Sun readers a bigger and better experience than they have ever had before," she added.

Mr Darcey told the Guardian newspaper on Tuesday that the paywall was "unavoidable" as the free availability of Sun stories online was threatening the newspaper's print circulation and revenues.

"This decision comes from a deep-seated belief that it is just untenable to have 2.4 million paying £0.40 (S$0.75) for The Sun at the same time as a bunch of other people are getting it for free," he said.

The Sun paywall comes just months after the newspaper sealed a £20 million deal to buy the mobile and online rights to show English Premier League football goals and match highlights.

Details of how the paywall will work - such as whether the Sun will allow readers free access to a certain number of stories per month before charging, as the Telegraph plans to do - have not yet been revealed.

The Sun had a circulation of 2.3 million in February, according to data released this month by Britain's press monitor, the Audit Bureau of Circulations, representing an 11.6 per cent drop compared with a year earlier.

Britain's Times and Sunday Times broadsheets, also owned by Mr Murdoch, went behind a strict paywall in 2010.

The online readership for the two titles has fallen far behind that of its rivals since the paywall came into force, with the NRS estimating that they receive a combined 52,000 visitors a day compared to 1.4 million for the Guardian and its sister Sunday title, the Observer.

Parent company Times Newspapers Limited reported pre-tax losses of £11.6 million last April.

The Telegraph, which already charges readers abroad for access to its website, said it would allow people to read 20 articles a month for free before asking them to subscribe - a similar model to that used by the New York Times, Britain's Financial Times and the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal.

Last week, the Washington Post became the latest US title to announce that it was going behind a paywall.

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