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The Globe‘s Great Wall

The Globe and Mail's paywall is here. Can it succeed? Does it deserve to?

This is what users see when they exceed their 10 free articles per month.

The Globe and Mail officially launched its paywall on Monday, making it the first major Toronto daily newspaper to try charging Canadian online readers for access to everything it publishes. (The Post already charges international readers.)

As of now, anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the Globe is entitled to just 10 articles a month before the website prevents them from reading more, though articles accessed through links on social media are still free and unmetered. A digital subscription is $19.99 for a month, and free for existing print subscribers.

The New York Times became the vanguard of the great newspaper-paywall experiment in March 2011, when it launched its own. The move is still controversial among media thinkers. Even so, nobody can deny that the paywall has been modestly (or maybe more than modestly) successful: just today, the New York Times Company announced that its flagship paper now has 566,000 digital subscribers. Advertising revenue, though, is still falling.

This much seems obvious: the Globe can’t expect that many subscribers, if only because it serves a smaller market. As a news source, it’s unique in Canada insofar as no other papers here are quite so high-minded and international in scope. The Times, meanwhile, is unique not just in its own country, but in the world (the English-reading part of it, at any rate), and it’s so high-minded that it will issue corrections for seemingly any little thing. It has a paid print circulation about five times as large as the Globe‘s.

The Globe is offering some premium features in an effort to entice readers, but we wonder how many people will ultimately find it worth their while to pay the digital subscription fee. The Globe paywall has a couple things working against it: one, the premium features really aren’t that great, and two, it’s almost as easy to work around as the one at the Times.

For those who don’t know, defeating the New York Times paywall takes about 10 seconds. Accessing articles without paying is a matter of deleting some text from your address bar. It’s almost stupidly easy, and you can see a YouTube tutorial on how to do it right here.

The Globe‘s paywall isn’t that easy to defeat, but it’s not very much harder. Once you’ve read your 10 free articles, all you need to do is put your browser in “private” mode. (Firefox, Chrome, and Safari all have this feature.) You’ll be able to read more articles. If the Globe‘s website cuts you off a second time, leaving private mode and then turning it back on should reset the counter.

So the paywall is actually more of a pay chain-link fence. You shouldn’t scale the fence. It’s wrong to scale the fence. But it’s not very tall, and you can do it if you want.

The Dashboard (on the right) is a carrot to the paywall's stick.

The Globe is trying to make digital subscriptions more than just a ransom. The paper is enticing subscribers to join Globe Unlimited (which is what they’re calling their digital subscription service) with the Dashboard, a subscribers-only sidebar on the Globe‘s website that allows users to bookmark articles and subscribe to stories about particular companies and people. The weird thing about the Dashboard is that it doesn’t really bring anything new to the party: anyone with a browser can already bookmark things, and anyone with a Google account can set up alerts for particular companies. These aren’t bad features, but it’s hard to imagine anyone preferring the Globe‘s versions of them.

Right now, the Dashboard doesn’t even seem to be available on mobile devices, though the Globe Unlimited FAQ says a mobile version is coming soon.

The Globe is also trying to entice readers with online content that non-subscribers can’t read, even if they’re under their allotted 10 articles per month. It’s too soon to say whether these subscriber exclusives will ever be tempting.

Since the subscriber premiums aren’t stellar and the paywall is easy to break, it seems like the most compelling reason to give the Globe its $19.99 a month (or $4.99 for weekend print subscribers), at this point, is loyalty. In other words, if you can’t live without the Globe‘s website, and you’re not desperately poor, then you should probably pay up. It’s the ethical thing to do, although nobody—not even the Globe—will really reward you for doing it.

Admittedly, things will become more complicated when the Star and the Post both want $19.99 a month, too.

UPDATE: October 25, 2012, 4:20 PM And apparently in a conference call this afternoon, Postmedia CEO Paul Godfrey announced that the National Post will be fully paywalled “in the new year.” Speak of the devil.

CORRECTION: October 25, 2012, 5:20 PM This post originally called the Globe “the first major Canadian daily newspaper” to put up a paywall. In fact, the Montreal Gazette, the Ottawa Citizen, and the Vancouver Sun—all Postmedia properties—have had paywalls since summer. The National Post has a paywall, but only for international readers. The post has been altered to reflect this.


  • Vidar Hansen

    Writers deserve to get paid.

    Advertising on the online world sucks…advertising/pop up blockers do that.

    How do you expect Hamutal or Ken to pay you? For everyone else either than the author of this post…Hamutal Dotan is the Editor-in-Chief and Ken Hunt is the Publisher.

    Most journalists (print/online) tend to write to get paid. Disclosure: I work for another media outlet but big fan of Torontoist.

    There are costs, subscriptions is a way to cover those costs, hosting of the site, printing of paper, etc…paying it’s writers.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t doubt the intent, but this is a bit misleading. People don’t subscribe to individual writers or columnists; subscription fees go into general revenues, so the decision to use a paywall has nothing to do with directly paying writers. The G&M paywall doesn’t mean more money in any given writer’s pocket, but if it drives away readers – or, more to the point, takes eyes off the ads – some writers may be paid less or let go entirely.

      • Anonymous

        Well, the model of giving away the product for free on the website has been tried for a decade, and is widely perceived as a business failure. So it’s worth experimenting with different models.

        • Anonymous

          They’ll have another failure on their hands if they don’t fix the aforementioned holes in their chain link fence. But charging people for what they can get for free, and easier, elsewhere is probably not a business model that will work either.

          • Anonymous

            I definitely don’t disagree with that.

        • Anonymous

          They’re not giving anything away for free. Their product is readers, which they sell to advertisers. Thanks to hugely increased competition, and a recessionary environment, ad revenues are waaay down. This is at best a shot in the dark, and I’ll be surprised if they break even on it (meaning: cut their losses).

          • Anonymous

            Revenue Models for print/web are apples and oranges, not even the same party (especially advertising). Which I believe is part of what Andrew97 was saying…

  • Dzak

    Globe2Go users currently do not get access to the same features as print subscribers.

  • Walter Lis

    “Clark Kent is quitting The Daily Planet”

    Even Clark Kent, who used to be a mild-mannered reporter for a great metropolitan newspaper, will no longer be. Going to another medium, the on-line world?

    Great Cesar’s ghost.

  • Estta

    I don’t understand how the Globe thinks they are not only as good as NYTimes, but somehow better, since they cost 5$ more a month. Ridiculous.

    • Chris

      That’s the issue. Ten dollars I’d pay… Twenty is offensive. I might go up to $12 if they’d agree to fire Wente.

  • Suicide Boi

    Our own Toronto Public Library gives us free access to the full text of most newspapers. Not as pretty as the newspapers’ own websites but the issues go back decades.

  • Anonymous

    What backwards thinking by the newspaper industry. Let’s not forget, paywalls aren’t new. There were tried before and failed. It’s a fallacy to think that newspapers in general can succeed this way. Only the outliers (aka NYT) will be able to make a successful paywall.

    Innovative business models don’t need to rely on poorly paid writers. The problem is that reporting just the news is not longer valuable content. There needs to be more value and alternate revenue streams. Count the numerous blogs that have become journalistic entities in their own right, while paying their writers.

    Instead of innovation, the best idea at the Globe and Mail was to charge people for things they already get for free, and to combat their falling ad revenues (due to global internet competition) by having less people see their ads.

    Brilliant thinking.

    • Anonymous

      Have you not heard of columnists?

    • R Holtslander

      Perhaps you remember the pay wall that the G and M tried and stopped back in 2008? I hope they can make a go of it but I have my doubts.

    • Mg

      It’s fewer people, not less people.

      • Anonymous

        You’re right, not sure how I let that slip. Thanks, I fixed it above.

  • Anonymous

    Do any of you pay for digital music? Sure, you can steal it relatively easily online, just like it’s easy to scale a newspaper paywall. For that matter, you could probably get away with stealing a newspaper from you local corner store if you were so desperate or greedy. Print advertising revenue is falling around the world and digital advertising is not taking up the slack. This revenue is required to operate a newsroom full of journalists and bureaus across the country and around the world, and undertake expensive but important activities like investigative journalism. If that type of journalism is not important to you, don’t consume it. If you do, you should pay — whether you consume it in print or online. Estta: The NYT’s “all access” pass (tablet, email, smart phone, desktop) is $35/month — $15 more than the Globe. Do your homework.

    • Anonymous

      “Print advertising revenue is falling around the world and digital advertising is not taking up the slack.”

      This is a business model problem. Readers/the audience are under no obligation to keep paying them for a product or service they don’t value – under any circumstances – but certainly not when the “problem” is too much competition and too many free alternatives.

      • Anonymous

        Agreed it is a business problem and the Globe and Times are addressing it. I also agree audiences are not obligated to pay under any circumstances — unless they choose to become readers. And by all means there are free alternatives. If you would prefer to get your news from a subway paper or blog, have at it. Media outlets with real newsrooms and bureaus need to start charging, and they will. Those that are high quality will make it work.

        • Anonymous

          They may be chasing their tail here: if quality falls because revenues fall, revenues will continue to fall because they aren’t setting themselves apart from the wire-news freebies and blogs and free alternatives online. Print journalism needs to adapt to the changing landscape, but contracting and cutting back is self-defeating bottom-line-first thinking. Give me something unlike anything I’ll find on Google News and it’s more likely you’ll get my attention and keep me coming back.

          • Anonymous

            And company’s like Google don’t care about the ad revenue of print or web. They want your loyalty to their brand and offering free news is a way to do that. Print is pretty much dead and business models around news are set to fail from the get-go. The times-they-have-changed

          • Anonymous

            Google is an advertising company. Of course they care about ad revenue.

            You have a misconception if you think Google gives you news for free. Google is the online Newspaper box. You can see the headlines, but you have to go to the newspaper itself to actually read the articles.

            And, paywalls just drive traffic from Google to alternatives. If the Globe can’t monetize properly, the answer is that they haven’t found the right business model or they aren’t offering more value than their competition.

          • Anonymous

            You are very naive to think Google is an ad company. They are a data company, first and foremost.

          • Anonymous

            Sure I am. Do you know what Google does with their data? They sell better ads. They are an advertising company. That’s how they make money. Go look it up.

          • Anonymous

            The Googs is a marketing company that has advertising as one of it’s main revenue sources.

            You have to understand that I’m speaking as it relates to this topic. I think you’re going off a bit on something that really has nothing to do with the Globe and Mail’s pay wall.

            Google doesn’t make money by sending people to the G&B, G&B is a publisher, Google is an ad Network, intrinsically as different as water and fire.

            The Globe’s model is to get eyeballs so that advertisers pay to place their ads on the G&B site, the Googs on the other hand wants to drive traffic (referrals) to its search engine to please it’s publishers who then purchase advertising and place those ads on various other sites. This difference, while subtle is worth noting because Google news is ad-free while G&B is not, which clearly shows 2 separate motivations. I realize there are many reasons for this, but in terms of this article, practically speaking, are irrelevant.

          • Anonymous

            I don’t think we disagree on any of that. My original point was only to point out that Google does indeed care about ad revenue on the web. As you point out, they offer quite a bit of value just to sell a few ads well (with the data they collect informing those ads.) The media companies could learn from these companies and offer more value to their customers, instead of trying to create silos.

          • Anonymous

            Communication break-down. I totally agree with you. my bad.

    • Estta

      Really? Their top tier, all inclusive package with apps for the smartphone and tablet costs 35$, yes. But for 15$ you get unlimited access and the smart phone app.

      And yes, I do pay for digital music. Because it is reasonably priced.

      • Anonymous

        $1.29 for one song vs. less than $1 dollar/day for a hundreds of articles. Whatever floats your boat.

        • vampchick21

          $0.99 for most songs on iTunes, the $1.29 is for the ‘popular’ songs. But that’s just splitting hairs. I can also get an ebook for less than a buck, but I’d rather pay the $20 or $25 for the real thing. It’s not about price per say, it’s about what you are getting for said price. A song I love or a song that everyone is into but drives me nuts. An ebook or a physical book. A webpage or a physical newspaper.

    • Anonymous

      Digital advertising may not be taking up the slack for Newspapers but it is certainly taking up the slack as a whole. Look at YOY growth of digital ad revenue in this country and you’ll see that it is consistent and it’s big. With regards to paying for online music…I don’t have to anymore because services like Spotify are providing ad supported streaming models (30 million songs) that let me listen to just about anything I want.

  • ♥ Donna Vitan

    Fave line has got to be “So the paywall is actually more of a pay chain-link fence. You shouldn’t scale the fence. It’s wrong to scale the fence. But it’s not very tall, and you can do it if you want.”!

  • R Holtslander

    It seems expensive somehow. $20/month is almost as much as the cost of my unlimited internet connection. I can get all my news from various free sites such as the CBC etc. I’m not sure, like the author, what the actual benefit there is to paying for it.

    • Eric S. Smith

      I’m pretty sure that the Globe’s editorial brain trust actually thinks that the Internet is less impressive than their newspaper. They do, after all, have Margaret Wente, while all the rest of the Internet has is tiresome, lazy contrarians. Plus, features on houses that their columnists are trying to sell! And, uh, Reuters wire service stories, because there’s no other place you could get those.

  • Keith

    I have come across the paywall thingy in a few online papers around the globe… I just surf elsewhere for news when that happens.

  • Dan

    The advantage of following and saving features that are owned by the publisher is that they can track the read state of any article regardless of how you access it. For instance, if you are following stories about “Apple” the Globe Dashboard can show you which articles you have already read, no matter how you accessed it. 3rd parties can only track read state within their own service.

  • Anonymous

    This is not the first time they have tried a pay-wall. It failed before, but times have changed.

  • pee yoo

    Try The Washington Post, The Economist, The Guardian — examples of what papers are like in imaginative countries that exert themselves. All free (mostly), and heads above anything in mediocre Toronto.

  • jaklin badr