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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.

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