Publisher Alan Allnutt announced in Wednesday’s paper that The Gazette is moving back to a paid model for its website.
Based on a similar move by the New York Times earlier this year, montrealgazette.com will have a metered paywall, which allows a certain number of free articles a month and then charges for access beyond that. The model is designed to get heavy users to pay for content while not discouraging occasional readers who might reach an article through a Google search or a blog link.
The system, which is managed by Press+ and expected to be running by the end of the day, will allow 20 free articles a month, then charge $6.95 a month (or $69.95 a year) for access. This compares to $26.19/month for six-day print delivery or $9.95/month for the Digital Edition.
Print subscribers will, once they register, have unlimited access to online content.
The meter will only apply to “premium” content from The Gazette and Postmedia News, including photo galleries and videos. “Major” breaking news stories, blogs and content on affiliated websites like Hockey Inside/Out and West Island Gazette Plus won’t be subject to the meter.
It’s unclear whether other wire copy (Reuters, AFP, etc.) will apply. Wire stories, including those from Postmedia News, Reuters and Agence France-Presse, will count toward the meter, even though many of those are freely available elsewhere.
Users of the iPad app will not be metered. Nor will mobile users.
“A great deal has been written about the economics of publishing newspapers in 2011,” Allnutt writes. “The ‘old’ model – selling newsprint products very cheaply to readers and selling the audience to advertisers for the majority of income – is increasingly challenged. Simply transferring advertisers from print to online may not work for all. In order to continue our investment in the quality and depth of our award-winning journalism and offer you the features and functions you want from our website, we believe we have to find new sources of revenue.”
Once upon a time, The Gazette used to charge for online access, under a model similar to what Le Devoir uses today: Some articles free, but most completely locked down behind a paywall, with only the first paragraph available to non-subscribers. Like the Times, The Gazette abandoned this model with the hope that increased advertising revenue would be more profitable than the subscriber revenue that comes out of the paywall.
The big question, of course, is whether or not this will work. The Times got 100,000 subscribers in its first month (most of those at 99 cents for four weeks), but its model isn’t universally loved, and it has been criticized as being too loose and having too many loopholes. More importantly, there are still plenty of free sources of local, national and international news online, so paid sites need a significant amount of original content that can’t be found elsewhere. People aren’t going to pay for stories about highway crashes, politics and press releases they can get from six different sources.
There’s also the added difficulty that, as part of the Postmedia Network, The Gazette shares content with websites of other newspapers, and those newspapers share content with it. Charging for a Gazette article will be pointless if it can be found unmetered on ottawacitizen.com. The Victoria Times-Colonist is also moving to a metered system (one that charges print subscribers as well), but other Postmedia websites are not. Postmedia is waiting to see how The Gazette and the Times-Colonist fare.
Of course, as much as I’m a fan of an open Internet and getting things for free, being a Gazette employee I stand to benefit indirectly if this results in a lot of new revenue. So subscribe away!
UPDATE: Some early reaction from Twitter. As you can imagine a lot of it is negative (or at least sarcastic):
- trelayne: #Montreal Gazette going to “meter” your access to 10 views/month, then U pay! cooky-clueless readers R screwed
- justinCgio: Without debate @mtlgazette moves to a “metered” model. $6.95 per month after free 20 articles. #media #nevergoingtopay
- ArcadiaMachine: I guess I’ll be reading Cyberpresse a lot more from now on.
- MsWendyKH: Check it: @MtlGazette adopts French literacy program!
- jacobserebrin: The Gazette is setting up a paywall. Why? Gaz has little pull, isn’t the NY Times. Other Postmedia sites still giving away same content.
- codejill: I could imagine paying that for a coalition of papers, but not for the gazette all by itself…
- NathalieCollard: Ouf! Bonne chance!
- conradbuck: So they’ll start writing premium content?
- justinCgio: In a job interview with @mtlgazette I brought up how the #RSS feeds were broken and how the web wasn’t live enough. Now you want me to pay?
- ALundyGlobal: Interested to see results in a few months
- Sita311: #lame I’d put up with advertisement if would remain free.
- Andrew_MTL: great, that’s a simple delete from my bookmarks. PLENTY of credible news resources for free. You going to charge for tweets too?
- ikenney: Goodbye Montreal Gazette. I won’t be reading you anymore!!
- montrealmarc: People respect the truth. You should just admit that you need the money, not that u r following NY Times business model.
- tomhawthorn: What will readers do to get around paywall? Whatever it takes. Or they will go elsewhere. They will not pay.
- noahtron: the #paywall put up by @mtlgazette will certainly help increase readership… just cuz it works for @nytimes doesn’t mean it works for you!
- AVassiliou: We have to pay for @mtlgazette on-line now?? #hugefail Fortunately, plenty of free news sites remain. Times must be tough for @mtlgazette
- finnertymike: Re Montreal Gazette paywall: current online offer not wow, plus @Cyberpresse outstanding and free. Subscriber interest likely tiny methinks
- finnertymike: Re MTL Gazette paywall 2: Need an online strategy beyond “Ok, pay now”: must-read voices? multimedia/graphics? liveblogs? pizazz?
- delmarhasissues: Hilarious that The Gazette cites The NY Times when justifying charging for online content. I’ll pay for The Times. YOU’RE NOT THE TIMES!
- jfmezei: Unless all Postmedia papers lock down, people will just go to other postmedia sites to get the exact same news.
- montrealmarc: All the big newspapers need to meet like the heads of the 5 families in “The Godfather” & make a group agreement to all go metered
- furry_princess: There’s a reason I stopped subscribing to the Gazoo back in 2002. #tabloidfluff
- JulienMcEvoy: Voir une annonce «The Gazette cherche un(e) directeur(trice) du marketing» le jour où ils annoncent leur paywall, c’est comme ironique.
- Milnoc: The Gazette already lost me as a reader years ago @finnertymike. What makes them think a paywall will encourage me to come back? Sheesh!
- aranr: The Gazette’s paywall scheme is so misguided. I’d pay to read their HockeyInsideOut mini-site but not the paper itself. #montreal
- cdiraddo: So now that @mtlgazette has started to meter their site, it means I will no longer link to them in fear that they may ask my visitors to pay
- jesspatterson: how else are they to pay their costs? gotta come from somewhere.
- spafax_arjun: If the Montreal Gazette wants people to pay for the content online it needs to step up its game by 2000%
The comments on the story on The Gazette’s website are even worse (and less grammatically correct), as are those on the Times-Colonist story. There’s also some reaction on The Gazette’s Facebook page.
Other coverage from:
- The Globe and Mail
- The CBC (Comments there are similarly not very nice)
- Presse canadienne
- Canadian Press
- Global Montreal
- Financial Post
UPDATE (May 26): Postmedia boss Paul Godfrey was on Toronto’s Metro Morning to explain the paywall deal. Summarized by J-Source.