Last week, one of Canada’s most prestigious national newspapers, The Globe and Mail, announced that the business was moving to a “metered pay wall system this fall, asking online readers to pay if they read more than a certain number of articles each month.” This bold move by the Toronto-based publisher follows a trend that was started by the New York Times last year.
Many critics and loyal Globe and Mail readers were obviously outraged by the proposed changes. Some argued that they “would not pay unless the content is unique and valuable.” This got me thinking about successful strategies where publishers have provided some of their in-depth research and objective analysis for free, while also charging a premium for deeper, extended coverage. The best example that came to mind was eMarketer which offers research and analysis on Digital Marketing and Media from 4,000 sources worldwide.
eMarketer content is distributed to its customer base for free through newsletters and blogs – both of which have high readership and subscription levels. These free stories provide objective, analytical perspectives from eMarketer consultants and writers who cover hot trending topics or breaking news stories in the online marketing world. The blogs and newsletters often use research snippets from eMarketer’s premium, pay-per-download reports to help support the story.
Not only do these channels inform eMarketer customers of newsworthy trends and topics, they also spark the reader’s interest to then purchase reports which provide deeper coverage and context for the stories. The downloadable PDF reports can range in length from a few 8.5×11 printable pages to a mini e-book for which customers pay premium price.
The Globe and Mail is in a unique position to follow this model because of the popularity of their Report on Business (ROB) Magazine and Technology coverage. The heavy readership and quality content of these channels make The Globe and Mail a national resource for in-depth analysis on business and technology trends and issues in Canada. And the publication is already on its way to becoming an eMarketer-type service by hiring consultants, like Duncan Stewart from Deloitte Canada, to write about Canadian and global technology trends.
If The Globe and Mail was to provide even deeper analysis (i.e. custom research studies and eMarketer-style aggregated reports from partner consulting firms) on a particular tech or business trend, readers would very likely pay more money for access to that information.
Of course, the news must always be the news. And the Globe ROB and Tech (possibly even Politics) reports would have to be slightly more evergreen in style and content – providing context where needed for breaking news stories.
I do realize that my suggestion goes against traditional journalism values. But in a world where news breaks faster on Twitter and Facebook than the print publishers can cover the story, I think it’s time to re-think the news publication and reporting model all together. Perhaps the solution is not to charge your readers to pay to read a news story. Instead, consider opportunities to provide deeper insights and data that no one can truly get anywhere else.
This idea would ultimately transform a publication like The Globe and Mail into part consulting firm, part news resource. But the upside is that it could create a reporting service that business, technology and political analysts can use to do their jobs better. It also takes the burden away from relying solely on advertising and creates a product that The Globe’s already loyal readers might actually want to purchase.
I think that the pay wall model is a short term solution for an industry in serious distress. Long term, I think newspapers need to experiment with new business models that will provide a different kind of service to their readers – just like what eMarketer and GigaOm are already doing. Do you agree or disagree? Please share your thoughts on other ways that The Globe and Mail could charge their readers for content that is unique and valuable.
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