Paywalls are good for journalism, believes Globe and Mail’s John Stackhouse

“Paywalls work if they are supporting good journalism,” said John Stackhouse, editor-in-chief of The Globe and Mail, presenting in the Paywalls: To charge or not to charge session at the World Newspaper Congress in Bangkok.

by WAN-IFRA Staff | June 3, 2013

The Globe and Mail at first considered metering its core business content, but Stackhouse explained that, “the more we researched our audience, the more we discovered that they were willing to pay for generally great content.”

So Globe Unlimited was introduced in October 2012. It is essentially a metered model, but also has subscriber-only content and some entirely free content. The non-metered content is “service content,” Stackhouse explained, such as weather, or horoscopes. Core content – the majority – is metered, and niche content can be metered separately depending on advertising deals.

The premium content that is fully behind the wall is primarily politics and business, which are the paper’s core areas. It includes products such as ROB Insight, and Politics Insider. Coming next is a world news area which will put a chunk of international coverage behind the paywall. This subscriber-only content helps to ensure a sufficient number of “paywall encounters.”

“We meet regularly to discuss the success and challenges of the meter,” Stackhouse said, and the paywall team has created an editorial content grid to display what core readers value and what they are reading when. The newsroom has been organized to meet the programming demands of this.

The paper now has more than 90,000 subscribers, and saw a 90 percent conversion rate for those who signed up for a 99c one month trial.

Stackhouse described several lessons that The Globe and Mail has learnt so far:

The top subscription driver is the brand – more subscribers have come direct rather than because they hit the paywall

  1. Journalists can thrive behind the wall – to convince them of this, two of the paper’s key columnists were persuaded to go behind the wall
  2. Subscribers are far more engaged, so be prepared to produce more. Subscribers visit 10 times more, spend 179 percent more time per visit and consume 179 percent more content.
  3. Open the newsroom to other departments – The Globe and Mail now has a site optimization editor and an audience editor in the newsroom
  4. Plan for audience loss and disruption – The Globe and Mail lost 40 percent of traffic in the weeks after introducing the paid model, and has been fighting hard to recover this. Free users come more actively at certain times of the week so content schedules have been adjusted accordingly.
  5. Promote both metered and free content – in the excitement of introducing Globe Unlimited, “we almost forgot about our free offerings,” Stackhouse said. Video is available free, and the site is social media-porous.
  6. Reward your subscribers with extras such as tools, ebooks and events
  7. Take advantage of news: “there’s nothing more powerful for newspapers than news,” Stackhouse said. Make the most of big stories, he advised.

Paywalls are good for journalism, Stackhouse believes.

Share via
Copy link