For 2023, The Globe and Mail is forecasting a C$30 million (€ 22 million approximately) increase in its overall revenue compared to pre-COVID days – C$30 million better than it was two years ago for print and digital.
With the highest number of print and digital readers in all of Canada, its audience is second only to the freely available Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), which receives considerable government funding.
“We believe in investing in quality journalism,” said Crawley. “We added journalists and resources to our newsroom even during the COVID-19 pandemic that wiped out whole categories of advertising revenue, some of which have not yet come back. So, while others cut back on print, we decided it was a good time to invest. It does make a difference. Readers notice. As do advertisers.”
Transitioning from print to digital
Back in 1999, when Crawley became publisher at The Globe and Mail, 70 percent of the company’s revenue came from advertising, display and classifieds – typical of the revenue mix in the industry at the time.
“We sold content far too cheaply, and we continued to make that mistake when the transition to digital happened,” he said. “We gave it for free for years.”
Cut to 2022, the company is busy writing its budget for 2023, with a projected 62 percent of revenue coming from paying subscribers, universities, businesses buying bulk subscriptions, and sales in retail newspapers.
Today, The Globe and Mail has 300,000 subscribers, of which 210,000 are digital-only and 95,000 are print subscribers.
The company’s target is 350,000 subscribers – print and digital – by the end of 2023. The Globe has also been aggressive with its pricing. Its weekday paper costs C$4 (€2.94), up from C$1 (0.73), 20 years ago. Its Saturday paper retails at C$7 (€5.14), up from C$3 (€2.20).
The Globe has three subscription packages – Digital access (C$ 1.99/week or €1.46), Saturday Home Delivery plus Digital access (C$6.99/week or €5.13), and Monday-Saturday home delivery plus digital access (C$10.99/week or €8.07). “
“A subscriber buying print and digital will be paying 650 dollars and upward (Canadian, about €493) per year. Some people are paying 800 dollars,” said Crawley. “So we work hard to justify this premium pricing, and we do it by spending on quality journalism. Several North American papers have failed to sell subscriptions, because the content simply isn’t worth it,” said Crawley. “Asking for more, and giving back less is not a great business model.”
The Globe’s digital subscription revenue jumped 20 percent in 2021. “We’re confident people will pay for access to good quality, trustworthy content, and that our AI technology is enabling our growth,” Crawley said.
Dynamic paywall engine Sophi
To boost the subscription business, The Globe has its own dynamic paywall automation technology called Sophi, which delivers a constant stream of data. Sophi uses deep-learning techniques to automate and optimise as many publishing decisions as possible.
The data is displayed in the newsroom to help journalists see the top converting stories, most read stories, stories that are performing well on social media, etc. The data also helps the brand in determining light, medium and heavy visitors, and which of those million visitors have the propensity to subscribe.
Sophi runs on artificial intelligence, which helps to feed The Globe’s users with tailored and personalised content, based on reader data.
“We keep doing that, subsequently tempting non-subscribers with an introductory offer, and then work very hard at retaining them,” Crawley said.
Crawley said The Globe’s churn rate is 3.6 percent. Its Average Revenue Per User (ARPU) is holding at C$19.21 (€14.11).
These numbers were enough for the Thomson family, which owns the company and news agency Reuters, to invest tens of millions of dollars into Sophi and The Globe’s newsroom talent, said Crawley. A relatively new business, Sophi was created about five years ago and has 21 customers using the technology across the world.
The Globe believes content is the heart of its business, but has also been increasingly investing in data storage, and hiring engineers and developers, he said. By next year The Globe will have 100 staff dedicated to Sophi, as a separate subsidiary, with its own P&L.
Crawley said 99 percent of the content on the website is automated, yet supervised and trusted by the brand’s journalists. This has resulted in a 17 percent increase in click-throughs from the homepage and a 10 percent jump in subscriber acquisitions.
Print stands strong
The Globe’s print processes have also been optimised over the years. An automated print layer tool reduces hours of layouts, designing, and story selection to a few minutes, Crawley said.
Even as print circulation numbers drop each year, it is still a significant part of the brand’s revenue profitability, he said.
“We still believe that print is a valuable part of our business and that is no delusion. It still contributes significant profitability to our business, and while several media players have gone completely digital, we like giving our readers a choice,” Crawley said.
In 2021, Crawley said the company’s print advertising revenue increased by 8 percent and print subscription revenue by 1 percent, a far cry from most other North American counterparts.
This was made possible by cutting back on unprofitable delivery routes and remaking sections of the paper for greater print production efficiency, the brand has managed to ensure that the contribution from print is at an 18 percent profit margin level.
The role of big tech
There’s been much debate about the big tech platforms, but Crawley prefers to treat them as partners rather than enemies.
“If your content is good enough, they will want to work with you,” he said. “If you rely only on the government to improve the deal for your industry it might be a long wait. I don’t have the time or patience for that. If I can gain a bigger audience and more revenue now, I’ll take it.”
In Canada, The Globe has content licensing deals with Apple, Google and Facebook.
“Not only does this produce millions of dollars in additional revenue, it also greatly expands our audience,” Crawley said. “Since we signed up with Apple a couple of years ago, our traffic has gone up between 20 to 25 percent, depending on the strength of the news cycle.”
The company is also about to start with Subscribe With Google, a platform designed to help publishers drive conversions and engage existing subscribers across Google. Google is also helping the brand with tech solutions, including an Android app rebuild.
Editor’s note: This article was updated on 31 May to correct the year Phillip Crawley became Publisher of The Globe and Mail. It was 1999, not 1989. With our thanks to Roger Parkinson, Publisher and CEO of The Globe and Mail from mid-1994 until 1999, and President of WAN from 2000-2002.