2012 Hero: The Globe and Mail‘s Paywall
Nominated for: reminding us that journalism costs money to make.
Torontoist is ending the year by naming our Heroes and Villains: the very best and very worst people, places, things, and ideas that have had an influence on the city over the past 12 months. From December 10 to 19, we’ll unveil the nominees, grouped by category. Vote for your favourites from each batch, every single day! On December 19 and 20 the winners from each category go head-to-head in the final round of voting, and on December 21, we will reveal your choices for Toronto’s Superhero and Supervillain of the year.
It goes without saying that the newspaper business has been in a bit of a bind lately. How do you make money—or just break even—producing something that everyone can essentially get for free? The New York Times answered this question by gambling on their popularity and prestige, betting that even if they couldn’t get all of their readers to pay up, their audience was big enough that if only a fraction subscribed, the paywall would be a worthwhile experiment.
Though this idea has since proven to be successful, the thought of implementing such a barrier at a Canadian newspaper didn’t seem all that credible not too long ago. It had, after all, already been tried and failed. And the country’s self-styled paper of record, the Globe and Mail, does not have anywhere near the number of readers that subscribe to the NYT.
But if we consider the music industry as an example of a sector that has essentially been working its way back out of its own coffin, thanks to its absurdly slow embrace of file sharing, then the brutal consequences of waiting too long to act are clear.
The Globe and Mail’s new paywall, while not exactly revolutionary, accomplishes a few things. It counts as an important experiment in whether the Canadian market is willing to pay for news again. Hopefully, it’ll put a bit of money in the Globe‘s rapidly draining coffers. Hopefully, it’ll allow the Globe to do what it has promised and start improving the digital content, both in quality and by supporting online exclusives. And it is also an official acknowledgement that newspapers cannot treat digital publication as an afterthought, or even companion to, the tent pole print edition—suggesting that we pay for news delivered online is a way of suggesting that it is worth paying for.
It is this last thing that is perhaps most important: paywalls remind the news-hungry public that producing news isn’t actually free, even though it has been available for free for a while now. One way or another, we are going to need to start paying for news again, and even if paywalls aren’t the mechanism on which the market finally settles, they once again help move our collective conversation in that direction.
The Globe’s wall and its implementation haven’t been perfect. It can be easily bypassed (though that’s likely a deliberate move); has been extraordinarily glitchy; and at $19.99, the subscription rate seems overly ambitious. But it is important to try, and we are glad the Globe is making the attempt.
See the other nominees who are Standing Their Ground:
|Toronto Ombudsman Fiona Crean
Grace under fire.
Staying professional, even when the mayor couldn’t.
Speaking up when she didn’t need to.
Keeping the waterfront interesting, and keeping his dream alive.