“Autre nouvelle importante”, it starts, burying the lead a bit: The Journal de Montréal announced on Wednesday that all content on its website will now be free. Ditto for the Journal de Québec. No more paywall on either site.
The Quebecor-owned paid newspapers instituted their paywalls in 2012, putting some content behind it but leaving other content free. At the time, the purpose of the paywall was to protect the print edition’s subscription fees.
So what’s changed? La Presse asked, and the answer is basically that their priorities have changed: with the rise of social media, reach has become more important, and a paywall is a hindrance to that.
So the Journal falls back onto advertising as the primary source of digital revenue, even though digital advertising hasn’t exactly taken off. It’s in that line that it signed up for Facebook’s Instant Articles, which allows JdeM stories to be read directly in people’s Facebook feeds. Publishers can include ads in the feeds, which is supposed to be a way to increase revenue.
Other Canadian launch partners for Instant Articles are Chatelaine, Diply, The Huffington Post Canada, Maclean’s, Sportsnet, The Canadian Press and TVA Nouvelles, plus some international media like BuzzFeed.
The Journal de Montréal’s decision isn’t that surprising considering the context. Its competitors in francophone news, including La Presse, Radio-Canada, RDS, TVA Nouvelles, Métro and others don’t have paywalls. Le Devoir is the only major francophone publication that still has one up, and it’s not searching for as many hits as possible.
On the English side, we’ve seen the Toronto Star drop its paywall, but The Globe and Mail and Postmedia (my employer) still have them, porous as they may be. And they put them up after concluding it was a mistake to have content online free in the first place. Will they follow suit in determining it was a mistake to consider that a mistake?
The decision would be much easier if online advertising was a viable revenue source.
Meanwhile, this decision means the Journal de Montréal and Journal de Québec will be even more eager for as many clicks (or taps or whatever) as possible. There’s a huge incentive for clickbait, so don’t be surprised if it increases.