Boston Globe drops paywall, adds meter instead

A memo from Editor Brian McGrory lays out a number of big changes to The Boston Globe’s digital businesses. The catchiest: “We’ve replaced the paywall with a meter that allows readers ten free stories in a 30-day period. After that, they’ll be challenged to pull out their credit card and pony up. In truth, the paywall was successful, measured in the nearly 60,000 digital-only subscribers to bostonglobe.com. But the universal belief is that we can bring even more paying readers to the site with a meter.”

The Globe launched a paywalled site, BostonGlobe.com, in September 2011. The premium site was “really designed for people who are drawn to our journalism — the full range and depth of our journalism — and are really interested in reading stories … from start to finish,” Marty Baron, then the Globe’s editor, told Jeff Sonderman at the time.

File photo by Charles Krupa/AP Photo

Boston.com remained as a standalone free site, with some Globe content. BostonGlobe.com didn’t have a meter — you pretty much had to pony up if you wanted to read. Henceforth, the two sites “will live happily and healthily apart,” McGrory writes. “And yes, they’ll even compete with each other.” (He told me last year he planned to “untangle” the sites.) Boston.com “will remain a news site at its core, but with a sharper voice that better captures the sensibilities of Boston.” Hilary Sargent, also known as Chartgirl, will be Boston.com’s news editor, McGrory writes. The company is looking for a new editor for Boston.com: Ron Agrella is leaving that role.

Teresa Hanafin will be editor of the Globe’s new publication covering Catholicism. It hired John Allen from National Catholic Reporter earlier this year to staff that coverage, and McGrory says the paper has “contracted with Ines San Martin, a young Argentinean, to cover the Vatican, and we’re looking to hire another staffer or two as well.”

Full memo:

Hey all,

I wanted to bring everyone up to date on a number of key developments on the digital front, initiatives that are designed to make our journalism ever more accessible and relevant to a larger audience.

First, we had an enormously successful launch on Monday of BetaBoston, our new site covering the tech and biotech industries. The site builds on our reporting of the extraordinary innovation that is unfolding daily in our region, the deals and the drama, the creativity and the culture. In the last couple of months, we got the go-ahead from the front office to invest aggressively. Mike Morisy, the site editor, hired Dennis Keohane from a startup site called VentureFizz and Kyle Alspach from the Boston Business Journal, creating a combination of young, savvy, semi-frantic reporters and editors who are as connected to this community as they are smart about what it does. It only gets better when you factor in Globe business reporter Cal Borchers, who we embedded in Kendall last summer. Take a look for yourselves at betaboston.com.

Second, the paywall is now officially down at bostonglobe.com. I’m sure there’s a Reagan joke to crack here, but it’s too obvious even for me. This is a huge event that means this enterprise has doubled down on the work of the newsroom. We are betting that the more people get to sample our journalism – to read our stories, to view our photography and videography, to experience our graphics – the more likely they’ll be to subscribe to the full body of our work. We’ve replaced the paywall with a meter that allows readers ten free stories in a 30-day period. After that, they’ll be challenged to pull out their credit card and pony up. In truth, the paywall was successful, measured in the nearly 60,000 digital-only subscribers to bostonglobe.com. But the universal belief is that we can bring even more paying readers to the site with a meter.

Third, we’ve begun the tough but critical work this week of further separating bostonglobe.com and boston.com to create a pair of even more distinct and distinctive sites that will live happily and healthily apart. And yes, they’ll even compete with each other. The intention over the next many weeks is to move all Globe-originated content – staff blogs, chats, videos, and more – to bg.com, where it can be widely read by a larger audience not hindered by a paywall. This will allow bg.com to reflect the full, vibrant, lively personality of this entire room. At the same time, boston.com will remain a news site at its core, but with a sharper voice that better captures the sensibilities of Boston. We’ll have a few openings on boston.com that we’re looking to fill with more content originators (forgive the parlance), and we’re encouraging all producers to create as well as aggregate more vibrant content. As part of the separation, we’ll relocate the entire boston.com enterprise in the media lab, all producers and editors, in a move that is targeted for next week. The redesigned boston.com will launch on mobile late this month and on desktop in early April.

Fourth, we have some key leadership changes that accompany the separation:

Jesse Nunes will take over as homepage editor of bostonglobe.com, given his impeccable news sense and key management skills.
Katie McLeod will come over from boston.com to be the bg.com features editor. Anyone who has worked with Katie knows of her vast creativity online and her command of lifestyle coverage.
Matt Pepin will take over as sports editor, another coup for bg.com. His knowledge of sports is as legendary as his deep understanding of digital audiences.
They will be overseen by bostonglobe.com editor Jason Tuohey, for my money not just a prized digital editor here at the Globe, but one of the very best in the country. Trust me, this is a stunning combination.

Fortunately, boston.com will be well stocked with talented editors and producers to match.

Angela Nelson, one of the sharpest minds and most empathic managers in the building, will take over as features editor, responsible for just about half the page views that the site typically gets.
Hilary Sargent, a relative newcomer to boston.com but someone who grew up in the Globe newsroom, will ascend to news editor, bringing her trademark brains, sharp eye for story, and winning voice across the entire news report.
Glenn Yoder will come over from bdc wire to boston.com to serve as sports editor – a smart, engaging leader overseeing an absurdly talented team of producers.

It’s important to note that Ron Agrella had previously informed me that he was looking to move on from his role as boston.com editor. Ron, as everyone knows, has led boston.com through a time of vast change. While we pulled Globe resources away from the site, Ron remarkably and creatively found ways to maintain its enormous readership, all while garnering local and national journalism awards year, most notably for the coverage of the marathon bombings. I’ve asked him to stick around as long as possible to help with the transition, in the new role of special projects. He has graciously agreed. In the meantime, we’ve launched a search far and wide for a new boston.com editor.

Bennie DiNardo has served as deputy managing editor for digital during a vital time. He’s overseen the launch of bostonglobe.com, the beginning of the brand separation, the arrival of Methode, and most recently, the true separation of the sites. He’s done it all with great distinction and a track record of success. I’ve asked Bennie to take on the role of associate editor, his first assignment being in the Business section, where he will help the department with the critical work of creating a digital first orientation, as well as assist Mark with the daily report. Please thank Bennie for a job exceptionally well done.

Just one more. I’ve asked Teresa Hanafin, the community engagement editor for boston.com, to take the pivotal job as editor of the as-yet-untitled Catholic website that we plan to launch in the late spring. The site, among our key initiatives, needs a smart leader with a combination of wordsmith abilities and a deep understanding of the online world. She’s got more than enough of that. John Allen, the world’s best Catholic correspondent, has already made a huge mark on our coverage. We’ve contracted with Ines San Martin, a young Argentinean, to cover the Vatican, and we’re looking to hire another staffer or two as well. Teresa will oversee these efforts while being a major part of a working group that will design and launch the site. Please congratulate Teresa for her many years of profoundly important work on boston.com, where she served as editor and made an enormous mark on the community engagement and social media side, and thank her for taking on this new role.

Aside from that, all’s quiet.

But please take it to the bank, these are exciting moves that will thrust this organization forward on many fronts. For so much of this we have our new digital adviser, David Skok, to thank. David basically walked into a hurricane, but brought with him an infectious sense of calm, a deep understanding of the issues, and a quiet, immovable authority. He’s already proven himself invaluable to what we do.

Thanks to everyone involved – and everyone is involved. I’ll keep you posted as these next pivotal weeks unfold.

Brian


We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • Albin

    Back in the day when I subscribed to a daily paper and a few magazines, I was not subscribing to a couple of hundred bucks monthly worth of “pipes” for internet and mobile media (set aside TV). I’ve never “felt bad” about not paying for media because I’ve long thought the solution is going to be that ISPs I subscribe to, and aggregator/advertisers like Google who subject me to ads, are going to end up paying for the media that used to be supported by subscription and advertising. The idea of trying to reestablish content subscriptions on top of the new “pipes” subscriptions that did not exist in the heyday of longform content, is both expensive and offensive.

  • SocraticGadfly

    No, no, no, the paper has NOT abandoned the paywall, it’s simply gone to a different version of it. However, with it still a paywall, the real stupidity is keeping a free “non-premium” site. Boston, like Dallas and San Francisco, will eventually realize the folly of its errors. I think. But, when?

  • ljatlanta

    My guess is that this model is going to win out among newspaper websites. The problem with a strict paywall (with no free articles) is that people who have never read the publication are unlikely to pay up front to determine whether the paper is worth the outlay.

    That is consistent with my own purchasing behavior. Another factor is that I’m not likely to subscribe unless I’ve demonstrated to myself that I’ll read the site more than once or twice a month.

    The downside of the model, is that, unless the paper is in a reader’s local market, or the paper is really a national newspaper, most people will only visit the site if they are following a link to a specific story. So most publications will probably get a lot of nibbles, but few bites. I hope that the model leads to an increase in stories worth reading, as an enticement to an increase in subscribers.