Paywalled BostonGlobe.com launches, while Boston.com remains free

The Boston Globe moves most of its content behind a paywall today, to a new website aimed at people who want to immerse themselves in the Globe’s journalism.

The longstanding Boston.com remains a free site, including teasers for all Globe stories and a select number of full stories, as well as hyperlocal sites, sports, entertainment and travel coverage.

With all that still free, why pay to use BostonGlobe.com?

As I noted recently, The New York Times’ leaky paywall shows that convenience, duty or appreciation are stronger motivations than coercion when it comes to paying for online content. The Globe is betting heavily that the convenience of a premium design and reading experience on BostonGlobe.com will set it apart for a certain audience.

“BostonGlobe.com is 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,” said Globe Editor Marty Baron. “It’s a true reading experience for people who like and appreciate journalism and value our editorial judgments.”

BostonGlobe.com has a streamlined look, with more room for text and photos and less clutter around the page. There are fewer ads, and they’re more tasteful — no popups, page takeovers or expanding banners. Just a couple simple, rectangular display ads per page at the moment.

Boston.com, meanwhile, targets the more casual audience that may visit infrequently, scan news briefly, or come for shopping or entertainment information rather than journalism, Globe Publisher Chris Mayer told me.

Already Boston.com and The Boston Globe have distinct audiences, according to Rick Edmonds, Poynter’s business analyst. He said Scarborough Research figures show that Boston.com adds significantly to the Globe’s reach within its metro area — similar to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s AJC.com and The Arizona Republic’s AZCentral.com.

Here are the key things to know about the new site, based on my interviews with Baron and Mayer.

It’s free throughout September. The paywall is suspended until Oct. 1 thanks to a sponsorship, which gives everyone a chance to try out the new site and gives the Globe time to promote it.

The pricing protects the print product. BostonGlobe.com access is free to all print subscribers. That means the cheapest way to access the website is to subscribe to the Sunday print edition at $3.50 a week ($1.75 for the first 12 weeks). The digital-only subscription is $3.99 per week. Mayer said the Globe’s goal is to increase overall readership, regardless of medium.

There will be no metered threshold. Unlike its sister paper The New York Times, the Globe does not allow a certain number of free articles per month. Every page other than the home page and section pages is protected by the paywall. But…

Social, blog and search referrals are exempted from the paywall. Like the Times, any visitor who clicks through to a Globe article from search results or a social networking site will be able to read that article for free. However, the article page will look more like the free Boston.com layout, with more ads than the uncluttered version that subscribers see.

It uses a mobile-friendly design. The new site was built from scratch using impressive technology that adjusts the page layout to the type of device the reader is using. (I wrote about this approach and why it makes sense in another post.)

Boston.com keeps some Globe content. As I mentioned, Boston.com will have headlines and excerpts of all Globe content. The two sites will have separate editors, with different editorial objectives for different audiences.

The Boston.com editor can choose five Globe stories each day to make fully available as “editor’s picks.” The Globe’s coverage of sports games will always be on Boston.com, but its enterprise and investigative sports features may not be. The Globe’s travel coverage will be posted on Boston.com a week after it appears in print and on BostonGlobe.com.

Baron said he anticipates that, on average, three-quarters of everything the Globe produces will be exclusively available on BostonGlobe.com.

Extra features and subscriber perks included. In addition to all the news stories from the print paper, BostonGlobe.com will have updates throughout the day, exclusive video such as documentary-style pieces and behind-the-scenes features, and live chats. The Globe is also introducing a “loyalty program” called Boston Globe Insiders to give subscribers access to special events and to interaction with the Globe staff, all to promote “a feeling of membership,” Baron said.

So what are the prospects? BostonGlobe.com will rise or fall on its central assumption that a significant number of online readers highly value a general-interest news source for its traditional editorial judgment and journalistic principles.

I have to say, the observable landscape does not bode well for that assumption. The predominant trends of online news consumption are that people gather their news from a variety of specialized sources, few of which they are accustomed to paying for. They value accuracy, but not so much a newspaper’s sense of judgment and dispassionate objectivity.

Certainly BostonGlobe.com will serve well the people who already read the print newspaper, and its pricing structure will give subscribers a reason to maintain at least their Sunday home delivery.

While he didn’t disagree that most people rely on free news online, Edmonds said the point of the paywall “is that people who do like Boston Globe journalism and consume it heavily are asked to pay — whether they are predominantly print, predominantly digital or some of both. This may prove a helpful retention strategy over time as more and more folks move to the latter two categories.

“Or another way to say it is that I doubt they are hopeful of capturing lots of online pay readers who are not already fans of how the Globe does things.”

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