U.K. newspaper The Sun quietly launched a free U.S. website on Wednesday as News Corp tries to take advantage of the tabloid’s existing audience across the pond.
News U.K. currently has about a dozen editorial and audience development employees working specifically on The U.S. Sun, whose operations are based in News Corp’s Midtown headquarters in New York, according to a person familiar with the matter. The soft launch is largely seen as a “toe in the water” exercise, that person said.
Alongside original reporting and aggregation, the team is also repurposing relevant content from The Sun’s U.K. version for a U.S. audience.
The U.S. Sun launched with its top story describing a fatal Ukrainian Airlines airplane crash. Other stories included an exclusive photo that the publication alleged showed former President Bill Clinton posing with Ghislaine Maxwell, a former associate of convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. The site also had a piece which claimed Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are planning to move to Canada. The launch was announced with a simple tweet, declaring, “Hello America! 🇺🇸 We’ve just launched our new site: https://the-sun.com.”
In November, the U.K. version of The Sun’s website pulled in 26 million unique users in the U.S., according to research firm Comscore. The Sun attracted 113 million monthly global users in June, News Corp said in its annual report for the 2019 fiscal year, which referenced Google Analytics data. News UK posted a 4% drop in revenue, to $1.03 billion, in the period, which parent company News Corp blamed on the weakness of the print advertising market and foreign currency fluctuations.
News UK declined to comment.
The Sun enters an already crowded celebrity magazine and tabloid market, alongside its News Corp stablemate New York Post and other titles including National Enquirer and TMZ. This new entrant into the U.S. market arrives about a decade after its U.K. rival Daily Mail launched with a Los Angeles newsroom. Daily Mail has since gone on to employ around 200 staff in the region and has its own TV show. For November, the Daily Mail’s site was the 45th most visited site in the U.S., drawing 75 million unique visitors, according to Comscore. (The Sun, with its 34 million unique U.K. visitors, beat Daily Mail’s 25 U.K. million visitors in November, according to Comscore.)
Since The Sun lacks the brand recognition in America of some of its peers, “it’s going to be a very risky and frustrating journey if they’re just trying to steal a slice of the ad revenue pie,” said Rob Ristagno, CEO of publisher consulting and analytics company Sterling Woods.
One strategy for the publisher could be to build an audience in the U.S. and then attempt to add a paid-for proposition — although it seems unlikely the tabloid would go down the subscription route. The Sun launched a paywall in the U.K. in 2013, only to scrap it two years later.
Instead, The Sun could experiment with providing paid events or other forms of special access to its brand offerings. “If that’s the long-term strategy, my next question would be, What niche are they trying to carve out?” Ristagno said.