Gazette begins charging for website access

Pop-up box that comes up when you hit the Gazette's metered paywall

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!

A page of frequently asked questions has been posted, and subscriptions are being taken.

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:

UPDATE (May 26): Postmedia boss Paul Godfrey was on Toronto’s Metro Morning to explain the paywall deal. Summarized by J-Source.

26 thoughts on “Gazette begins charging for website access

  1. Becks

    This is from the CBC article today: “The Globe and Mail tried a pay-for-the-web system but dropped it in 2008.”

    Gee..now I wonder why they dropped it…DUH!
    This idea is just going to be another nail in the coffin of The Gazette…it’ll close within two and a half more years.

    Reply
    1. AlexH

      A few years back, the public wasn’t ready, nor did they have the technology in their hands to make it a value proposition. How quickly things change with technology.

      THese days web enabled smart phones are pretty much the norm, Ipads and their ilk are quickly gaining market share, and web enabled e-readers are coming around as well. With all of those changes comes a change in how people get their information while on the go.

      The result? Instead of getting a dead tree edition of the Gazette at the news stand (or delivered), people would love to see it on their “devices” so they can enjoy it on the go, all without the overhang of recycling the paper.

      A few years ago, the market was the at home desktop user, and that wasn’t a functional market. Things moved. The Gazette joins such papers as the New York Times in moving down this road.

      In simplistic terms, the “internet free lunch buffet” is now over. Remember it, you can explain it to your grandchildren, it will be just as quaint and odd as the rotary dial telephones and gas burning cars.

      Reply
        1. AlexH

          Dreaming? Nope. I expect to hear that from people in the 15-25 crowd who grew up thinking the internet is a wide open, totally free firehose of content. But reality tends to get in the way, let me explain what has happened:

          When the internet started (and pretty much all the time up until about 3 or 4 years ago), newspapers and other content providers would create websites as marketing tools for their print / physical copy businesses. That is to say that the Gazette’s website was run sort of as a loss leader, with few real costs because the old style “dead tree” edition and it’s ads were what was paying the salaries, the rent, and so on. They could afford to run a website for nothing, with little income, because more often than not, they were only paying a very small staff of people to convert the newspaper content into a website.

          However, the last few years have shifted that. More and more people get their news online instead of in print format, and business models have shifted. The Quebecor union fighting and QMI move are all parts of trying to face a reality: websites bring in less money per viewer, selling ads are harder, margins are smaller, etc. While some do it, it isn’t always easy to just take the printing newspaper and dump it online and generate meaningful income.

          The internet free lunch was bought and paid for not by internet users, but by other delivery methods that are slowly dying off. The online versions don’t make enough income to make them worth doing at the current levels. The pressure builds to a point and then something has to be done to change the game. Paid access subscription models are a very likely outcome, because there are few other models that are making enough income to make it worth doing.

          So you may suggest I am dreaming, but I would love to hear you explain why you think that the internet is going to continue to be an endless free lunch with high end content available for nothing.

          Reply
          1. mike

            A good writer can run his own website to post and comment politics (for example) and make more money than the Gazette can pay him. Social media will wipe out online journals.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              A good writer can run his own website to post and comment politics (for example) and make more money than the Gazette can pay him.

              Name one person for whom this is true. I have a great deal of respect for new forms of media, but with a few exceptions (all in the United States) the vast majority of money in media comes from traditional (i.e. print or broadcast) media. That may change someday, but it hasn’t yet. I make far more money at The Gazette than I probably ever could with this blog.

              Reply
          2. AlexH

            Mike, social media is one of the great red herrings of the internet, because people think that “news from everyone” is some sort of way to get news. It isn’t. It would be like getting your news by standing at center ice at the Bell Center and having everyone yell at you at the same time. Worse yet, most of them don’t really know the story, they are just yelling about what they saw, heard, or heard from someone else third hand from a guy who lives near there. It’s a firehose of unfiltered, unchecked, and unconfirmed facts.

            It’s why stupid “Jim Carrey is dead” style rumors can spread so fast. Unchecked facts are worse than the absence of information.

            Online media is the process of stepping over dollars (current mainstream media) in order to pick up the shiny penny that new media brings. Few people seem to realize that without the structure that is paid for via mainstream media, there wouldn’t be very many shiny pennies on line to pick up.

            Reply
          3. mike

            Alex you are talking like blogging and journalism education are completely opposite. And journals are free of errors. Wake up please!

            Look at this: http://www.regrettheerror.com/2006/05/24/updated-montreal-gazette-columnist-fired-for-plagiarism/
            or this:
            http://www.regrettheerror.com/2006/08/23/montreal-gazette-apologizes-for-getting-lottery-numbers-wrong-after-reader-demands-compensation/

            or this:
            http://www2.canada.com/montrealgazette/corrections/story.html?id=fb00dd57-137a-4158-9d72-f71743ed305c
            or this:
            http://www.honestreporting.ca/blog/permalink/2680.aspx

            The list is still open.

            Reply
          4. Kevin

            The problem isn’t necessarily that web ads bring in fewer $$ per reader/viewer, it’s that overall, they bring in a smaller audience.
            For decades newspapers, TV and radio stations have been inflating their numbers — look at the JdeM and La Presse dumping copies everywhere, then claiming that people ‘read’ them, in order to sell ads.

            With the web, you can track exactly how many people read every single story, and you see it’s generally far fewer –unless you hit Google or Yahoo News, and sudenly the world’s reading your one story about something ridiculous.

            The salesguys have yet to realize this, and have yet to change how they work — basically they should come clean, admit to advertisers that the price per viewer was drastically wrong, and charge more for web ads.

            Mike completely misses the point. Of course legit news sources make mistakes — and they correct it.
            On the other hand, many bloggers are no better than Fox News,which can be called out for errors countless times and yet still repeat the same errors ad nauseum.
            But make money from a one-man blog? Not happening.
            Look at 308.com, which was referred to by every reporter in the country during the election campaign. Ask Eric Grenier where he makes his money and he’ll tell you it’s from the freelance fees he got writing for the Globe and mail.

            Reply
          5. AlexH

            Mike, everyone makes errors. From typos to misunderstanding, things happen and yes, thing do make it to print. However, professional journalists / news sources tend to publish corrections and retractions as needed, and admit to their failings. Nobody for a second suggests that newspaper are perfect, and everyone else isn’t.

            Social media (news from your friends) is always going to be less accurate. I liken it to 5 blindfolded guys describing an elephant. 4 of them get legs, one of them gets a trunk. Which one will have the correct description? Probably none of them. You could read their 5 blogs or their 5 facebook posts or their 5 tweets, and still have no clue what they are talking about. A journalist might interview all five, ask another bystander, etc, and be able to report an elephant was at the park. Your social media friends probably would miss it.

            Social media has killed more people than you can imagine. Some celebs have been killed off so often, it’s become a joke. That is just the obvious part of the failings of “social media”.

            On your basis, we can throw out the paper and only read the op-ed pages. That is about the same level as most blogs out there. Heck, even this site depends on “real media” to add to the stories and bring more to the table. Without it, would you truly believe everything that is posted here as absolute fact?

            Reply
  2. Dzuunmod

    Boy, I just don’t see how local papers can make a go of this. NY Times? Sure. Globe and Mail? Maybe. Montreal Gazette? I’ll wait and see, but I’m not optimistic for them.

    Reply
  3. Fassero

    Probably one of those “let’s see if there’s a couple of cents to be had of this” scenarios. There’s a big difference between the content of a New York Times or Wall Street Journal versus what passes for the Gazette these days. It’s not like it will drive away core readers either. Kind of a non-story unless the Gazette is delusional enough to see some kind of cash cow coming out of this.

    Reply
  4. SN

    It’s the internet generation that want everything for free and want high paying jobs, I’m not sure how that economy is sustainable. Just 12 or so years ago everyone had to pay to read the Gazette by buying a copy and now the thought of paying (a very small price) is outrageous. I just can’t believe all these people that believe everything on the internet should be free. If readers don’t pay for content it either dies or gets collected by big corporations such as Bell Media and ROGERS who turn them into a tool to propagate their own agendas. Some might say ads will pay for it, that revenue is small and it forces the published to censor some material. I bet all the people complaining also steal their music and at the same time pour endless amounts of cash in superfluous things.

    Reply
    1. wkh

      to me a dollar for a large full size newspaper each day filled with news features and photos, not to mention comics and various other entertainment, that I can hold in my hands, touch and feel, and keep forever if I so wish was a bargain.

      Paying to read some shit on a screen is nonsense.

      Reply
  5. Mental Floss

    I have no problem paying for worthwhile content, be it online or print.

    Sadly, the Gazette has become a publisher I am no longer willing to fund.

    Piss-poor writing, weak local coverage, inattentive copy-editing and (paper) issues crammed with more advertising than actual news are signals that this once-respected institution has more than one foot in the grave.

    Had they bothered to focus on local news (and not wasted time reprinting international wire stories that everyone else had seen online two days earlier) they might have had a chance. Yet, in trying to appeal to their base of existing (ahem, aging) subscribers, they have not just missed the boat, they have grounded it on a sandbar.

    Would I pay 10¢ a day for a pared down, well written, Montreal-focused, ad-free, online edition of the Gazette? Yep!

    Will I be buying a subscription to their same-old-same-old lacklustre garbage? Fuck no.

    Reply
  6. Pelle Moulante

    Maybe if the Gazoo didn’t keep cutting the first two panels of the color weekend Doonesbury I’d think about caring… but it’s years too late for that.

    Reply
  7. Tux

    What’s with all the FUD about free content, as if it was going to END ALL THINGS? Yes, revenues in the content business are decreasing because the internet has devalued content (and made distribution cost next-to-nothing) so traditional business models aren’t cutting it anymore. Yes, we’re going to lose a lot of stalwart old publications. Why don’t you embrace it instead of crying about it?

    What oldsters like you have to understand, AlexH, is that with content devalued, you can’t just put a paywall in front of your content and expect to get paid. It’s just not going to work. When I click a link to an article and am then asked for money, I don’t get out my credit card, I go to another website. The ‘free lunch’ as you call it will never end, simply because it is no longer required that I get my news from big corporate sources. They can collude all they want to try and change things but the fundamental nature of the internet is for information to be free. As long as there are citizen journalists and bloggers, the big boys will have to compete with free, and when it’s $1.00 versus $0.00 the $0.00 will win every time. Didn’t you take economics? Your doubts about citizen journalism being of the same quality as “real” corporate journalism are FUD. Journalism is as strong as the journalist, not as strong as the banner/logo/company. Social media offers us some very intriguing opportunities for journalism of all kinds, especially investigative. Also, navigating through the various sources of news online is not like having a bunch of people shout at you. It’s like reading a bunch of different websites and figuring out which one has the best information for you based on that. It’s not very hard, you should try it sometime. In short, I don’t buy your “free news is bound to suck” thing. Try again.

    With content devalued, and no money in distribution, you have to make your money from other things, advertising, merchandise, services. I can’t tell you what will replace newspapers and paywalled sites, all I can tell you is that they WILL be replaced. Stick your head in the sand if you want but it’s like Jack Valenti campaigning to ban the VCR, or the record labels suing their customers (did they think it would stop people from sharing mp3s?) You can’t turn back the clock. Technological progress happens, you either adapt or you die.

    What’s going to happen is the market will adapt. Dinosaurs (like newspapers with paywalled websites) will die. New species will rise in their place. The fact is, it is currently possible for people to make a living creating free content and giving it away online. It’s not easy, but it’s possible. It’s only going to get easier and more commonplace. I for one will not miss our content-and-distribution-owning overlords. Quebecor can kiss my blog-readin’ show-downloadin’ butt.

    Reply
  8. SN

    Has anyone hit the pay wall yet because I haven’t yet. I read many articles a day and still nothing has stopped me.

    Reply
    1. Fassero

      I just did yesterday. Funny that the “paywall” is being run by an American company (Press+). Anyway, doesn’t affect me because I’m a print subscriber but, yeah, I got the popup.

      Reply
  9. anon

    I find that there is a lack of foresight about the consequences of these kinds of changes, even if they are successful in the short term. $7 a month is not a lot, it’s true. And yes, there are many people willing to pay this. But if some papers have success with this model (which they presumably expect to), other papers will inevitably pick up the idea and reproduce it for themselves. All of a sudden the consumer will be paying for all their preferred papers, for example: The Gazette, the National Post, the New York Times, the Guardian, etc. Newsies tend to read multiple papers/mags that provide high quality content in particular areas. Imagine the cost of that all together for consumers. If people have to start paying for all these news sources ON TOP of the hefty internet connection fee, they’re going to pay for the high quality ones only and let the subscriptions to smaller, local papers like the Gazette lapse, especially since the major local stories are often also dealt with by the national papers and local bloggers DO offer interesting analysis (free).

    The Gazette should really be careful about supporting this model, as it may not serve them well in the long run, even if it does work in the short-term.

    Reply
  10. Kyle

    You know, the paywall is easily bypassed by pressing stop on your browser as the page is loading, you stop loading between the article loading and the popup to pay and the articles still populate. Pretty weak paywall!

    Reply
    1. Paul Marriott

      The paywall popover is just a CSS DIV element … all the content is still in the HTML source. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader as to how to view said content without seeing the paywall element. Note that it doesn’t require any nefarious activity at all and so couldn’t be construed as defeating a DRM mechanism. I reached my “monthly free article” quota in a matter of minutes.

      Reply
  11. Annie

    @AlexH

    I suspect you work for the Montreal Gazette and wonder if you should not be updating your resume rather than defending the dinosaur !!

    It is 2 months running now that the Gazette has been fee-based and I for one have not missed it one teeny bit. Oddly enough the free street level newspapers give me the stories I used to find in the Gazette.

    Does anyone know how this experiment is working out? What the Gazette readership numbers are now that it is fee-based? I am so curious about the results of the past 2 months.

    btw the stop the browser from loading works like a marvel !!!!

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      It is 2 months running now that the Gazette has been fee-based and I for one have not missed it one teeny bit.

      btw the stop the browser from loading works like a marvel !!

      So you don’t miss it “one teeny bit” but have used it enough to figure out a way to bypass the wall that comes up when you view more than 20 articles a month.

      Reply

Leave a Reply