By The Canadian Press - Wednesday, December 26, 2012 - 0 Comments
Paywalls ignite debate across Canada .
TORONTO — Whether they’re lauded as the future of online media or labelled a scourge on the flow of digital information, opinions abound on the rise of paywalls in Canada, and the conversation is only going to get louder.
The concept itself — asking readers to pay for editorial content online — isn’t a new one, but it’s now being instituted at many media outlets across the country.
Those in the newspaper industry say it’s a natural and necessary evolution. But are Canadians willing to fork over their credit cards to sign up?
Observers say it’s too soon to tell, but they warn that those who hope paywalls will crumble could be waiting a long time.
“I think the paywalls are here to stay,” says Vincent Mosco, a Queen’s University sociology professor who studies the media industry.
“I think it’s an inevitable development that has no guarantee of success.”
Experts say quality journalism costs a lot of money, and declining revenues from print advertising coupled with lagging digital ad sales have created a funding dilemma for many news organizations.
The economic downturn of 2008 compounded the problem as it diminished advertising spending in general and forced many people to cut back on spending, which included cancelling subscriptions to newspapers and other print products, said Mosco.
Many in the industry hope paywalls will provide a new source of revenue as personal spending picks up once more. One frequently cited example of such success is the New York Times, but observers caution that the paper is an “elite” product.
“One of the reasons why the elite newspapers succeeded while the day-to-day kinds of newspapers have not is because the former have invested in top notch journalism … whereas what we’ve seen in the mainstream of ‘next tier’ newspapers is that they’ve been cutting back substantially on their investment in good journalism,” says Mosco.
Canadian media companies implementing paywalls, which range from $6 to $20 per month, seem well aware of the challenge they face in maintaining the size of their readership while simultaneously trying to make a new funding model succeed.
“The one thing we did learn about the audience is that people don’t like change at the beginning,” says Paul Godfrey, President and CEO of Postmedia Network.
Some Postmedia papers — including the Montreal Gazette, the Ottawa Citizen and the Vancouver Sun — have been experimenting with paywalls this year. The company plans to put the rest of its newspapers behind a paywall in the first quarter of 2013.
“We knew that, ultimately, in order to really succeed or save the industry from total collapse that you had to start charging for online, knowing full well that this wasn’t an instant cure…It’s a marathon, not a sprint, to bring in more revenue,” Godfrey says.
The Postmedia papers with paywalls have seen “slow, steady growth” so far, and while Godfrey expects a minor dip in online readership numbers when all the company dailies start charging for digital content, he expects the decline to be a short-term one.
“If you provide compelling content the reader is looking for _ high journalistic quality, columnists that are fan favourites — people will return,” he says.
Similar feelings are echoed at The Globe and Mail, which launched its much-anticipated paywall just a few weeks ago.
Although many griped about the newspaper’s plans to charge for digital content, the Globe’s publisher says the paywall’s initial performance has been pleasing.
“I think it’s safe to say that the response so far has been in excess of our expectations,” says Philip Crawley.
“Long term I think we see digital subscription revenue playing a pretty big role, but it’s going to be a slow, steady build…We have both new and traditional revenue areas that continue to do well, so this is another string to our bow.”
Perhaps even more important than the revenue it could eventually bring, paywalls will now allow newspapers to provide richer data about their readers to advertisers, and that, says Crawley, is incredibly valuable.
“The agencies are saying…’We want you to tell us what the intentions of your audiences are,”’ he says.
“We are working very hard to develop more intelligent data. The paywall, by gathering more information about how people consume our content, helps us to do that.”
Simultaneously, adds Crawley, the information a paywall can glean could also help newsroom staff gauge how audiences react to different stories, which in turn would help them better understand readers’ wants and needs.
The Toronto Star, which boasts the highest newspaper circulation numbers in Canada, will also be watching the evolution of its audience very closely once it puts up a paywall next year.
“People who are more deeply interested in the issues of our region and our population are going to become a larger component,” says publisher John Cruickshank. “We’re going to know a lot more about this audience…That’s the kind of information that will allow us to talk to advertisers in a more informed way.”
While the Star has yet to reveal when its paywall will launch and how much it will cost, the paper says it will use a metered system, which asks online readers for a fee once they surpass a certain number of articles. Cruickshank hopes the move won’t dramatically impact the number of online visitors.
“The real question is where you set the dial… We want to have lots of sampling,” he says. “On the other hand if there are people who are coming to the website every day who aren’t subscribers, then we think they should be contributing.”
Whether enough readers will agree with that thinking remains to be seen and some observers are skeptical.
“The undifferentiated local paper is in great trouble because there are so many free substitutes and even if some people may step in and say they’ll pay for the content, I’m not sure that’s enough to support the decline in revenue,” says Kaan Yigit, a media analyst with Solutions Research Group.
A poll conducted last month by the market research firm found 15 per cent of respondents said they would pay an access fee if their favourite newspaper started charging for online content — a figure Yigit says is too low to be sustainable.
To offset future losses, he suggests newspapers may centralize to reduce costs, use more syndicated content and explore more online video features which, when paired with video advertising, could be a growing source of revenue.
Yet some say part of the paywall model actually allows newspapers the potential to boost their print following.
“One of the reasons papers put up paywalls is to protect their print circulation,” says Kelly Toughill, Director of the School of Journalism at the University of King’s College in Halifax.
“If I have to pay for it online, maybe I’ll take it in print and my value is far higher as a print customer than an online customer because print advertising is far more valuable.”
Ultimately, Toughill suggests readers will become accustomed to paying for access to news online if the content truly fulfills an audience’s needs.
Whether outlets can do that in Canada, however, remains to be seen.
“I think we’re moving into uncharted territory,” Toughill says. “People are thinking differently about the business model of journalism, are willing to innovate and have let go of a lot of the assumptions that were holding back innovation.”
By Mika Rekai - Monday, November 12, 2012 at 2:10 PM - 0 Comments
France threatens to take the Internet search giant to court over getting rich from revenue-starved media sites
For media agencies, producing good content is expensive, and giving it away online has never made much sense as a sustainable business model. As readers have dropped print subscriptions and migrated to the web, newspapers have suffered years of plunging revenue. Many hoped the losses would be temporary as advertisers also moved online, but news sites still aren’t reaping the benefits. According to the Newspaper Association of America, in 2011, for every $25 lost in print revenue, newspapers made only $1 online.
While many news organizations, including the Globe and Mail and the Postmedia chain in Canada, have put in place online paywalls, a more radical solution is unfolding in France that could put an end, once and for all, to the industry’s crisis. French newspapers, with the help of the socialist government of François Hollande, are going after Google.
Many companies spend millions to advertise on the Internet, but instead of doing so on sites that produce content, the money largely goes to search engines (i.e. Google) and web aggregators (widely used sites that provide links to news content). Last month, leading French newspaper publishers called on the government to adopt a law that would require Google to make payments to news sites for displaying links to their content. Google, which earns $3 billion every month in ad revenue, said in a statement that it “could not accept” the move and “would be required to no longer reference French sites” as a consequence of such a law. Forcing Google to pay for linking to news content, a spokesperson says, would threaten Google’s “very existence.” Continue…
By Philippe Gohier - Wednesday, April 29, 2009 at 5:03 PM - 1 Comment
[via Patrick Lagacé]
Montreal’s venerable, Québecor-owned alt-weekly Ici is no longer. Blaming the decision…
[via Patrick Lagacé]
Montreal’s venerable, Québecor-owned alt-weekly Ici is no longer. Blaming the decision on the steady decline in advertising revenue, Quebecor announced today that Ici will live on as an insert in the Montreal edition of 24 heures and on the web, but will no longer exist as a standalone paper. (Hopefully, a website re-design is coming, because the current one is atrocious.)
I haven’t lived in Montreal for a couple of years, but I was a regular reader when I did. Best of luck to the nine folks who got laid off as a result of the move.
By selley - Wednesday, July 9, 2008 at 1:29 PM - 0 Comments
Must-reads: …Vaughn Palmer on abortion in BC; Dan Gardner on the benefits of running
The politics of climate change
The New Democrats are at sea, the G8′s all talk, and the apocalypse is coming.
Jack Layton’s New Democrats are currently “advancing the cause of climate change by waging war on the Liberals at a time that party is winning kudos from much of Canada’s environment movement for its Green Shift plan,” the Toronto Star‘s Chantal Hébert writes. Not only that, she says, they’re pushing a cap-and-trade approach as if it’s a “mutually exclusive” idea from a carbon tax when it isn’t—something Jean Charest, Gordon Campbell, Dalton McGuinty and even Dion recognize—and complaining about carbon taxes disproportionately impacting Canada’s most vulnerable when the Green Shift promises to redirect revenue to exactly those groups. This, Hébert concludes, “is what passes for strategy for the federal NDP these days.”
The Globe and Mail‘s Jeffrey Simpson offers environmental protestors at the G8 an avuncular pat on the head and suggests they run along home for milk and cookies. “No serious climate-change negotiations will get under way until George W. Bush leaves the White House,” he writes—perhaps “some time in mid-2009, … but no one will be surprised if that date slips into 2010″ while the new administration strategizes and compares notes with “key congressional leaders.” All this is good news for Canada, Simpson suggests. Since both the Conservative government and its predecessor have set emissions targets that they can’t, and won’t, achieve, “extra time will be needed for Canada to bring some credibility to its incoherent position.”