Paywall Lessons

By: Nu Yang

Paywall Lessons

In today’s industry, the paywall is just one avenue newspaper publishers are taking toward finding new revenue. Since launching its metered paywall, Globe Unlimited, in October 2012, Toronto’s Globe and Mail has seen its numbers of digital readers grow, and along the way, have learned some lessons.

Visitors to can access 10 free pieces of Globe and Mail content per month before being asked to subscribe. Globe Unlimited is available at no additional cost for five- or six-day home delivery subscribers, and it is discounted to $4.99 for partial-week home delivery subscribers. For non-subscribers, a subscription trial is available for 99 cents for the first month, after which the cost is $19.99 per month.

According to editor-in-chief John Stackhouse, the paper saw a significant drop in page views after the launch, but he was prepared for the decline. He saw more print subscribers than non-subscribers consuming the news online, but to encourage the casual visitor to sign-up, Stackhouse said the newsroom focused on providing content worth paying for.

He added more reporters to write on popular topics such as business and politics. Sections like Streetwise (financial reporting), Report on Business, Political Insider and World Insider were made available only to subscribers. Thanks to data and analytics, Stackhouse said the newsroom also changed the time of day when articles were published online in order to maximize moments of high traffic.

Last November, Globe Unlimited also introduced Globe Investor, an investing toolkit for subscribers. Publisher Phillip Crawley said because of the new feature, there were 6,000 more new subscriptions during the month.

Crawley said right now, there are more than 100,000 subscribers to the digital subscription package (the number includes print plus digital and digital-only readers).

He said he learned that readers like to have choices on how they consume their news. “The La Presse in Montreal is really active on the tablet and developing their app, but I hear some of their readers still want the paper. It’s about consumer behavior and consumption patterns. People want options.”

The paper continues to find new ways to promote its paywall by offering special subscription discounts and free ebooks as rewards to subscribers. One ebook, “Ask a Wine Expert: 101 Things We All Want to Know” saw 16,000 downloads in one week, said Crawley.

While markets in the U.S. such as the Dallas Morning News and San Francisco Chronicle are dismantling their paywalls, Crawley said the digital subscription is the right business model for his audience. “They’re prepared to pay for good content and we’re learning what good content is.”

Moving forward, Crawley said he would like to offer more bundling options, including offering print to his digital subscribers. In the newsroom, Stackhouse said he will continue to work on growing the paper’s audience especially on the mobile platform. “We want to draw in our casual audience.

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