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!