Boston Globe: Two Websites, One Paper and a Paywall (not in a pear tree)

In light of the recent Boston.com/BostonGlobe.com split, Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard hosted an event last night to discuss the direction and motivation behind the switch of the Globe to a paid-content model online. The panel hosted, by Nieman’s Josh Benton, included a full deck of Globe staffers: Chris Mayer, the newspaper’s publisher; Marty Baron, its editor; Michael Manning, product director; and Lisa DeSisto, the paper’s chief advertising officer.

The Globe’s “two site” philosophy – the free Boston.com and the subscription based BostonGlobe.com – is a different approach than other newspapers’ paywalls. There have been “full walls” erected; there have been attempts at metering content and allowing a few free articles each month. The two portal approach is an interesting way the regional paper of record is attempting to bill itself. A few of my notes and snarky comments:

  • On Boston.com, you’re going to see broad interest stories there (weather, traffic, sports). It’s still going to be out there to attract the “drive-by” audience of those people who come to a single story or feature. One stat that got thrown out last night is that more than half of the traffic to the site is from outside of the region, likely driven by expatriates trying to keep tabs on what is happening at home or audiences that get there through social channels.
  •  BostonGlobe.com – at $3.99 a month – is one of the more expensive subscriptions you’ll find out there for a small amount of content (although print subscribers will receive access as part of their existing subscriptions). What you’ll see with BG.com is optimization in a few directions.:
    • The focus on the content is going to be comprehensive, local and unique. If you’re going to put something behind the wall, not a bad idea.
    • The likely subscriber to BG.com has different habits in the eyes of the staff (and they are probably right) – DeSisto commented that she expects to see a spike in evening, tablet viewing of BG.com as opposed to the morning and lunchtime spikes on Boston.com. If the likely subscriber has (a) leisure time and (b) disposable, technology income, it reveals a bit about what kind of content is likely to fall under the wall and what kind of advertisers they are looking to attract.
    • Speaking of advertising, BG.com is still going to have ads, just less of them and hopefully more specific. They have sold out inventory through the end of the year – and the fact that Coldwell Banker is the first sponsor (actually, they are “sponsoring” the free trial that runs through Friday) speaks again to the likely demographic. I think it’s safe to say that you’ll see less small business/consumer ads in these pages, and more professional services or investing type ads.
  • The relationship between the two sites will be one to watch. A story could start on BG.com, but if the Boston.com editor wants to snag a really popular post for the free site, it may come across. What this tells me is that there is still going to be value in driving to the paid version of an article – with enough eyes, it may get the nod for placement on the free site.
  • …and finally, just like with NYT, there are ways around the paywall. The staff knows this – and whether or not it was an off the record comment or not – they recognize that there is some value in a “leaky” wall. It shows off the content, it entices a potential audience and it helps people continue to share within social.
  • Mobile applications play a factor here – the tablet apps are obviously primary ways to involve the likely subscriber audience – but what isn’t likely is a ton of development in the smartphone app space. This is a thing of habit – few people are likely to read the in-depth articles on their smartphones, they just want quick information. If anything, you’ll see just a better mobile web version of the site, since so many times a direct link from a social network is what brings people to a single story or feature.
As I always say, I’ll stick free until I absolutely have to.
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One Comment on “Boston Globe: Two Websites, One Paper and a Paywall (not in a pear tree)”

  1. […] Boston Globe: Two Websites, One Paper and a Paywall (not in a pear tree) […]


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