Brian McGrory wants to restrict free Globe content

Brian McGrory

Recently I reported for the Nieman Journalism Lab that The Boston Globe was tightening up on social sharing and on how much Globe content it offers on its free Boston.com site. Today Andrew Beaujon of Poynter.org interviews Globe editor Brian McGrory, who tells him that free Globe articles will increasingly become a thing of the past.

“We’re going to start removing our in-depth Globe journalism from Boston.com, which is not a small move,” McGrory says.

The new editor describes his goal as “untangling” the paid BostonGlobe.com and the free Boston.com sites, telling Beaujon that Boston.com will feature “more social media, more community bloggers, hopefully edgier content.” Breaking news will continue to run on Boston.com, but news stories will likely be no longer than 150 words.

When Globe publisher Christopher Mayer announced in the fall of 2010 that the paper would pursue paid digital subscriptions, McGrory, then a columnist, was one of its most enthusiastic proponents (scroll down past my Q&A with Mayer).

(And by the way, we’re now up to 150 words.)

The Globe has to pay the bills, of course. I just hope McGrory and company understand how many free alternatives are out there. Even if they’re not as good as the Globe, they may prove to be good enough for those determined not to pay. An overly restrictive paywall could also trigger new competition.

I’ll make one suggestion that might help McGrory accomplish his goals while at the same time ensuring that the Globe remains part of the online conversation. The Globe’s corporate big brother, The New York Times, allows people access to 10 stories a month before the paywall kicks in.

That seems reasonable, given that anyone who wants to read the Globe regularly is going to click at least 10 times a day. I hope the Globe considers it.

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19 thoughts on “Brian McGrory wants to restrict free Globe content

  1. Aaron Read

    I’ve noticed lately that the old trick of bypassing the NYTimes paywall (let the page load with the subscription demand, highly the gobbleygook code after the “.html” and delete it, and hit enter) doesn’t seem to work anymore, either.

  2. Aaron Read

    FWIW, the reason I’ve refused to get a paid subscription from any online news sources is because, never, never, not ever have I ever done such a thing without having tons of problems ultimately accessing the content after paying for it. Not ONCE have I subscribed to a site and then had no trouble getting content on my desktop and my smartphone; it’s always a giant hassle.

  3. Dan Kennedy Post author

    To repeat something I’ve said before: I’m a paying customer, and my subscription is now less valuable because fewer of my readers will be able to click on the link and access the content. And yes, I totally believe *regular* Globe readers should pay.

  4. Michelle Johnson

    Truth is, that for many younger people 150 words is sufficient.
    I’ve polled many of my students who say they’ll never pay for news of any length at any price. Add that to the fact that they aren’t looking for depth and they’ll continue hitting boston.com and other sources of free stuff.
    I agree with your advice about the Times model. Do what you can to develop a habit, a regular connection, for those who may eventually come into the paid fold.

  5. Saul Tannenbaum

    I’m a paying customer, all online now. (For the record, I’ve never had trouble getting to content. The worst problem was trying to get the dead-tree edition to stop showing up at my home.)

    My problem now is that, if I wish to share a Globe story, for example, today’s Mystic River story, I have no idea whether the link I’m about to share, generated by the Globe’s own sharing buttons, is actually going to work for whoever receives it. If “social discovery” is going to be as important as everyone says it is, then this uncertainty will be a real problem.

  6. Neil Keefe

    What’s the metaphor–chicken and egg or a death spiral? I subscribed to the Globe for 30 years or so, and my parents subscribed before that. I cancelled a couple of years ago because the paper was laying off reporters and getting thinner and thinner. I’ll be damned if I’ll pay the Globe again for “Globe Lite”, which is a pity because they have good content from time to time. It’s just spotty.

    The NYT model is 10/month plus unlimited via social media? I think so. Every morning they put out a flurry of tweets linking to articles. Once I arrive I look around and thing hmm there’s a lot of content here, maybe it would be worth subscribing. I think that’s what they’re aiming for, but in the case of Boston.com (or whatever the hell the diff is between it and the online Globe) I don’t see enough to consider it. If I was going to subscribe to something it would be the NYT.

    Foreign Affairs has a twitter feed that leads directly to in-depth articles. Don’t know if there is a monthly limit, but just shows there are a lot of alternatives out there.

    1. Mike Benedict

      I tend to agree. The NYT stories are more in depth and better written. The Globe is always a day late. Though I worry about those “students” who won’t read more than 150 words, I don’t think the MSM should downgrade their product to capture them. Face it, reading the Globe has never been cool to a 19 year old of *any* generation.

  7. Dave Brooks

    A week or two ago I got an email query asking whether I’d be interesting in paying separately, just for the Ideas section – and if so, how much I’d pay. Not sure why it came to me, although I regularly read the erratic but interesting Braniac blog that is sort of associated with Ideas. I think that sort of niche product is a good idea to pursue, although it’s not going to pay a lot of the newsroom bills.

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @Dave: Yeah, I’ve seen that too. Strikes me as very odd. The online subscription for the entire paper is only $15 a month. I don’t often see anything in Ideas that I would pay for.

  8. Neil Keefe

    Beaujon interviewing McGrory in the Poynter article says the paper plans to hire a reporter — “not a book critic, he stressed” — to cover Boston’s literary scene, which he said is particularly vibrant.

    Yes god forbid the Globe hire a book critic–let’s be absolutely clear on that! Even part time. That Katherine A. Powers book review on Sundays was such a burden on the paper, and so boring. Instead he’ll hire a reporter to tweet behind-the-paywall links to edgy stories about who they saw at local book readings, and what they were wearing. Vibrant!

    Good example of how the product got hollowed out.

    1. Dan Kennedy Post author

      @George: Bill is singing my song. Made all kinds of sense to “give away” content back before we realized that the advertising model was about to fall apart. After all, television news, even when it was much more in-depth than it was today, has always been free. And we only pay for NPR if we want to.

      We used to pay for printing and distribution. Now we pay for computers and broadband.

  9. George Snell

    Putting aside whether or not it made sense to put everything on the web for free, the result has been an entire generation (or two) never having subscribed to newspapers and conditioned to get all news for free on the Internet.

    The question moving forward is will this generation ever deign to pay for it? Or better yet – how do you get them to pay for journalism when so many newspapers and magazine don’t even practice it anymore (they practice news gathering – which no longer has value in the age of Twitter and Facebook feeds)?

  10. Victor DeRubeis

    Here’s a possible solution. Maybe media companies should hire the same clever people who’ve managed to persuade the public to pay $3.39 for a muffin and a cup of coffee that’s gone in 20 minutes. It’s likely the same public that’s balking at paying a buck a day for news that, if you take advantage of even a couple of coupons, pays for itself and is available online forever.

  11. Jeffrey Goldings

    @ Dan: Does the fact that the upper management of The New York Times has given Brian McGrory and Christopher Mayer permission to develop and implement a restrictive paywall financial strategy for The Boston Globe mean that the publisher of The New York Times has postponed seeking a buyer for The Boston Globe and boston.com for a year or two to allow McGrory and Mayer more time to try to make the Globe a profitable enterprise? Alternatively, is the new restrictive paywall strategy an effort to improve the balance sheet of The Boston Globe so that it appears, at least superficially, to be a more attractive investment, to a potential buyer of the newspaper?

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