Boston Globe edges closer to paywall

The Boston Globe will soon start charging for online content, Eric Convey reports in the Boston Business Journal. As with plans being developed by its corporate cousin the New York Times, the Globe’s paywall will be deliberately porous so that bloggers and their readers can share a certain number of stories each month. Heavy users, though, will be expected to cough up.

I predict, at best, very limited success — so limited that it may prove not worth doing. The Times Co. reported today that its revenue from print advertising and circulation continues to fall, but that online ad revenues are up by 14 percent compared to a year ago. Yes, the overall volume is lower, but online is where the growth is.

Rupert Murdoch’s Times of London lost between two-thirds and 90 percent of its online readers when it erected an admittedly more rigid paywall earlier this year. The Globe’s website, Boston.com, draws about 5 million unique visitors each month. The paywall could wind up alienating readers and advertisers alike.

I’d keep Boston.com free but get rid of the “Today’s Globe” section, which is a perfect replica of the print edition. Post most Globe stories to Boston.com, but maybe not all of them. Make sure readers get the message that the Globe and Boston.com are not the same. And reserve the full contents of the Globe itself for paid platforms — not just print, but mobile, iPad, Reader, Kindle and the like.

The Boston Herald already does a good job of differentiating its print and online editions. And the Globe has a greater opportunity, because the Herald is lagging in alternative electronic platforms.

More from Ralph Ranalli at BeatthePress.org, whose post alerted me to this story. Also, another Times Co. property, the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester, started charging for online content last month.

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18 thoughts on “Boston Globe edges closer to paywall

  1. Jerry Ackerman

    “I predict, at best, very limited success — so limited that it may prove not worth doing.” DK, 9/23/10

    Times are tough, and anything that brings in any additional revenue whatsoever has promise. I still don’t understand why the NYT dropped its earlier premium-content pay gambit; maybe there was a downside but I didn’t see it. It didn’t seem that this would cut into any other revenue.

    Did you note also that NYT will be taking a writedown on the Billerica plant? I presume that this will cover the hardware, but not the real estate. Anybody want to buy some big presses?

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Jerry: The Times dropped its premium plan for the same reason I think it might abandon the new plan: fears that additional reader revenues are being more than offset by lost ad revenues.

  2. Mary DeChillo

    Dan, I am amazed you could turn out a column of this length with only one hand! Don’t push yourself too hard. You are still recovering from a trauma.

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Mary: Thank you for your concern, and I’m trying to be careful. I am doing nothing with my right arm except propping it up, as directed. I am trying to keep in mind that my surgeon’s specialty is “traumatology”!

  3. Al Fiantaca

    The Times says that online advertising revenues are up 14%. I assume that means a couple of things. First, it shows that there are more eyes, of a targeted audience, that advertisers are willing to pay for. Also, those increased eyes or views allow the company to charge more for advertising on their site. The number alone, doesn’t tell me exactly how that increase was achieved. I do believe, that any increase is the result of increased visits, and given the economy, it is a fragile increase that can be easily deflated by an unwise paywall scheme that would reduce visits, and therefore advertising. I wouldn’t pay for it. There are too many alternatives. They lost their opportunity to charge for the product in the earliest days of the web when they were so anxious to get their presence on the web that they just put their print edition online. Now, the horse has left the barn, and It’s too late to close the door. Charges are doomed to failure. The best they can hope for is to charge for copies of old, archived articles.

  4. Jerry Ackerman

    Dan – yes, but at the rate that online ads can generate, it’s also possible that the subscriber revenue could exceed the ad income. I don’t have figures, so this is only conjecture, of course. But online advertising across a broad, poorly defined audience is dirt cheap – and in my opinion for good reason: people don’t go to online publications for ads the way they used to buy a paper paper to see what Sears or Jordan Marsh had on sale.

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Jerry: I don’t disagree. This is an experiment. We’ll see which is more lucrative. But I think the number of people who will pay for basic Web access is going to prove exceedingly small.

  5. Jerry Ackerman

    Dan, I visited Key West last spring, and before going checked out the local daily, the Citizen, online. That site delivered free only the first two sentences of any local story. Want more? Subscribe. When I got there I picked up the paper and saw their pricing structure: Three months, six months, one year, online subscribers pay the same as print subscribers. Over one year, online subscribers get a discount. Interesting business model, indeed. Sorry that I didn’t dig deeper.

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Jerry: Sounds like the model is to protect the print edition at the expense of online. I’d like to think that a big paper like the Globe can find a way to do something more interesting than that.

  6. Karla Vallance

    Dan, I take a different view of the “Today’s Globe” section. I firmly believe any site tied to a legacy product should include an easy way to navigate to the legacy product’s content — until and unless their search capabilities are way better than most that exist today.

    I frankly find “Today’s Globe” the most valuable navigational tool on boston.com.

    (But also hoping you are well on the mend…)

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      I frankly find “Today’s Globe” the most valuable navigational tool on boston.com.

      So do I, @Karla, but I think we draw different conclusions from that. And thanks for your good wishes — hope all is well with you.

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Michael and @Michael: Heard about this a couple of weeks ago from a student, and have asked the Globe for a statement. Seems dumb, given free library access.

  7. BP Myers

    Seemed an appropriate place to vent my frustration on the Globe’s increasing lack of comment sections on articles. Didn’t see any ability to comment on this morning’s shootings, and even James Fox shut off comments “out of respect to the families.” So now, you’ve got people responding to Fox in the one article that does appear to be open for comments (a rundown of recent neighborhood violence.)

    The New York Times and the St. Petersburg Times have what appear to be consistent policies about which articles have comment sections and which do not. In the case of the St. Pete Times, every single article that contains original reporting and all their blogs have comment sections, articles from wire services do not.

    It is obvious the Globe is using some kind of “editorial discretion” to determine when to open comments, and obvious too they disallow commenting on anything deemed potentially “incendiary.”

    I contend that comment sections (anonymous or not) serve a useful purpose for the community, allowing them to blow off steam or simply share in their grief. In addition, I know The St. Pete Times often gets actionable reporting from their comments sections as well. Reporters closely monitor the sections, and when a tidbit emerges, they’ll often add a “Call me” request if something looks interesting.

    No surprise I enjoy comment sections, and it’s quite often the first place I’ll go after reading a story. Already, I find myself on Boston.Com less and less because of this recent change. And no way in HELL would I pay for a product I couldn’t readily comment upon. Not in this day and age.

    Thanks. I feel better.

  8. Michael Corcoran

    @Michael

    Yeah, I do make use of the library when I need to (I have lexis-nexus at the moment). But that is a good solution for those who need to read a specific article and don’t have the $ to subscribe.

    Interestingly, there is also no chached version, which has long been a sneaky way of getting past paywalls.

    @dan : Thankfully, Northeastern is probably loaded with databases. But still, if a student wants to hyperlink to an old article there is no way. That could hurt pageviews, though I imagine only marginally. Altough it certainly will make the Globe a less attractive place for bloggers who want to revisit an issue that is not current and therefore available on Boston.com

  9. tobe berkovitz

    Via Romenesko

    “Boston Globe to offer two websites – one free, one pay
    Boston.com Boston.com will remain free, while BostonGlobe.com will become a pay site in the second half of 2011. The cost of a digital-only subscription has yet to be determined.”

  10. Laurence Glavin

    When the Herald had a paywall, I would go to bugmenot.com and find passwords there. I checked this morning (Thursday) and bugmenot.com still exists. I wonder if it will work on the Globe’s paywall.

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