Publisher Chris Mayer on the Globe’s new pay model

Christopher Mayer

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I’m skeptical, but I’m impressed. Yesterday’s announcement that the Boston Globe will move most of its content to a subscription-based website sometime in the second half of 2011 shows that Globe executives know where their strengths are and that they’re prepared to think innovatively to protect those strengths.

The Globe’s dilemma is that it has an enormously successful free website, Boston.com, that is quite different from the paper itself. Start charging for access to Boston.com, and many of those 5 million unique visitors a month would vanish.

The solution: keep Boston.com free, but split off the Globe’s content into a separate, paid site called BostonGlobe.com, currently a free subsite. The decision raises lots of questions. Perhaps the biggest is how much free Globe content will be posted on Boston.com, and whether Boston.com will remain as popular once it has to stand on its own.

Still, it’s a far more interesting idea than the metered model embraced by the Globe’s parent company, the New York Times Co., which rolled it out at the Telegram & Gazette of Worcester recently and which will give it a go at the flagship paper sometime next year. Under the metered model, readers can access so many articles for free each month, after which they have to pay. It might work for the T&G and the Times, but it would have been deadly for Boston.com.

Yesterday I conducted an e-mail interview with Globe publisher Christopher Mayer, which he graciously agreed to do because I still can’t take notes. (Although it’s getting better. I’ve got a pillow propped up and am typing two-handed now for the first time since my accident.) Our unedited conversation follows. I’ve got a few closing thoughts after the jump.

Q: The metered model seemed to be the way the New York Times Co. was going. Why did you choose something different?

A: We’ve said all along that each organization would need to come up with a custom-made approach that takes into account unique market factors. We felt this was the best course for us, given the fact that we have two strong brands and essentially two different types of users of our Boston.com site. We have the opportunity to build a free site and a subscription-based site, and based upon extensive research, that emerged as the best option for us.

Q: The advantage of the metered model is that you’re not entirely cut off from the great conversation that’s taking place on blogs and in social media. Are you concerned about breaking a big story and not having as much impact as you should because people can’t link to you? Please address what Clay Shirky said about the importance of online sharing with respect to the Globe’s reporting on the pedophile-priest story.

A: We don’t intend to be cut off from the conversation. We haven’t announced, or even worked out, all the details of what will be on which site. But we can envision that some full-text Globe stories will be available on the free site. I suspect we would have put many of the initial priest sex-abuse stories on the free site because that Spotlight Team investigation was viewed as clear public service reporting. In the future, we’ll make those judgments as appropriate. Continue reading “Publisher Chris Mayer on the Globe’s new pay model”