The Sun will scrap the paywall on its website just over two years after it was introduced, after data indicated it had become the least visited UK national newspaper website.
Rebekah Brooks, chief executive of Sun owner News UK, told staff in an email it would make its online stories “largely free” by the end of November.
She said the plan would add readers to compete against major rivals in the free advertising market such as Mail Online.
The Sun first started charging customers £2 a week in August 2013. Other newspapers charging for access include News UK’s Times newspapers and the Financial Times.
The Sun has recruited Keith Poole, the managing editor of Mail Online in the US, as digital editor to bolster its team in the transition to a free site.
The Sun reported more than 30 million monthly unique users in July 2013, the last officially audited figures before the Sun.co.uk was officially moved behind a paywall.
The move follows the reappointment of Brooks, who returned as chief executive in September after being cleared of all charges relating to the phone-hacking scandal, and the hiring of ex-Daily Mail and senior Telegraph executive Tony Gallagher as editor of the Sun.
Brooks told staff in an email: “I recently shared with you the future priorities for the company and am excited today to tell you more about our plans for the first of these: growing the Sun’s audience. This will mean setting the Sun predominantly free in the digital world from 30 November.
By coincidence, this is also Cyber Monday, one of the best-performing days of the year for online retail.
Back in August, online figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations showed that the Murdoch-owned publication remained some way behind its rival the Mirror online, and the least visited major national newspaper overall.
Overall, the Sun attracted 792,994 unique browsers on average each day in June 2015- compared to 14 million plus from online leader The Mail Online.
Recent months have been filled with experimentation at the Sun. The standalone political site SunNation won plaudits at election time, we increased the number of shareable stories on social media, we entered platform partnerships with Apple News and we will be a major player in Facebook Instant Articles.
“The biggest recent success story has been Dream Team. We have a record 1.25m customers signing up to be managers and our content has reached 276m people on social media.
Normally, we see interest drop off as the season progresses. This year, it’s going the other way thanks to Harry Burt and Harry Haydon’s clever use of engaging editorial content.
“Entering this new chapter for the Sun, we are in a strong position thanks to the many learnings we bring from the paid-for era. We know more about our readers than ever before. Our recent acquisition of Unruly, and our ongoing collaboration with colleagues at Storyful, further bolsters our position and will play a big role in how we supercharge our digital advertising capabilities.”
Brooks delivered the public strategy to move the News UK titles behind a paywall before she left the publisher amid the fallout of the phone-hacking scandal.
Since relaxing its paywall strategy the Sun has increased its average daily browser numbers to about 1 million.
This is about a tenth, or less, of rivals across the free spectrum which includes the Mail Online and the Guardian, the two biggest English-language newspaper websites.