It's a grim season for the world's newsrooms. Staff reductions have been announced at pretty much every quality publication, including here at The Globe, as traditional print advertising continues to slide. An irony can be found in the fact that most of us have never had more readers, or more paying readers. But advertisers are finding cheaper ways to reach the same people.
Even the somewhat enviable Guangzhou Daily Newspaper Group, the largest publisher in China, which is building a $300-million media centre in the former city of Canton, is facing headwinds.
The publisher, which can't print enough papers to meet demand, knows its rich advertising base (100 pages of classifieds on some days) will soon be disrupted. Their group CEO had a provocative question when he recently visited The Globe to understand how we've managed the digital revolution: How do you convince your staff to do more for less?
If that question is being asked in China, think what they're discussing on Fleet Street.
We see the new media economy differently, as evidenced by our digital subscription service that is built on a more focused approach to news – admittedly not easy when we have a daily newspaper to produce as well.
At the World Newspaper Congress in Bangkok this week, I explained what we have learned by charging for unlimited online access to our content:
1. Great journalism sells
We've found 36% of our subscribers signed up before hitting the paywall (which tells readers after 10 articles in a month they must pay for continued access). That suggests they've heard our message and believe enough in the Globe brand of journalism to sign up. The next biggest drivers of subscriptions is subscriber-only features such as Streetwise and Politics Insider.
2. Prominent journalists can thrive behind the paywall
When we launched Globe Unlimited, some of our writers raised a concern that they'd lose their mass audience. Two of our biggest names – John Ibbitson and Boyd Erman – are available pretty much only to subscribers, and their reach seems to be undiminished. We've used them both strategically in the newspaper and on free platforms such as video to broadcast their views and attract new subscribers.
Here's a recent video with Mr. Ibbitson.
3. Subscribers read more – a lot more
Our subscribers visit our site, on average, six times more a month than non-subscribers. On each visit, they read almost twice as many pages and spend three times as much time as casual readers do.
4. Newsrooms have to respond more quickly to market demand
A digital subscription system tells us – sometimes with brutal honesty – what our subscribers want to read about. Sometimes it's monetary policy and international affairs. Recently, it was Michael Douglas's comment that oral sex gave him cancer (a view he subsequently retracted). We appointed an audience editor, Kevin Siu, earlier this year to help us read our readers, so to speak, and respond to them – and more importantly, start to fashion our content choices and packages to drive more paying readership.
5. Free traffic needs attention, too
At the launch of Globe Unlimited, we didn't pay enough attention to the vast majority of visitors who do not pay for our content. We still make some money from those visits through ads on our web and mobile sites, and have rediscovered subtle ways how to keep casual readers coming back. At first, our traffic in some areas of the site dropped by as much as 40 per cent on some days. We're now back to a level of online readership in line with the three months leading up to the launch of Unlimited, and only 12 per cent below a 2012 peak. We've done this by targeting news at certain hours of the week, when readership is most prone to come to us, and adding more free content such as video and in general interest areas such as health, education and commentary. One example: our daily online editorial, published around 9 a.m. ET.
6. It's good to reward subscribers with more than what they signed up for
We've launched eBooks and aimed events at subscribers, in the hopes they will feel more committed to The Globe if we show more commitment to them. You should have received an eBook of China Diaries, the remarkable journey by correspondent Mark MacKinnon and photographer John Lehmann through China.
7. Nothing works like news
We see it almost every day – the biggest reason subscribers come to The Globe is for news, especially exclusive news, and timely commentary. It's why we've added early morning reporting power to our Toronto and Ottawa bureaus, and created new platforms for news analysis such as Report on Business Insight.
Not everyone agrees with our approach. Guy Crevier, publisher of Montreal's La Presse, also spoke at the World Newspaper Congress, and took a shot at the general approach to paywalls. (La Presse has just launched a free iPad app, which cost the company $40-million to develop and now takes 60 staff to produce – a big bet by Mr. Crevier and La Presse's owners, the Desmarais family, that tablet ad rates will remain strong.)
"Free news, free information is irreversible," he said, before really speaking his mind:
"Nintey-five per cent of companies that try paywalls will fail."
"It's like you have cancer and instead of dying in five years, you die in 10 years"
"Paywalls are leading us nowhere."
We disagree, as do – it would seem – the nearly 100,000 people who have signed up to pay for Globe Unlimited and cast a vote for the proposition that quality journalism is worth paying for.
The Globe’s best
Among the great journalism in this weekend's digital edition of The Globe, be sure to check out our India correspondent Stephanie Nolen's investigation of family planning (read: sterilization) in the countryside. Ms. Nolen is wrapping up five years in New Delhi, and moving this summer to Rio de Janeiro to open our new South American bureau. It's part of our ongoing investment in foreign coverage, which may be more valuable than ever for concerned Canadians trying to understand a complex and vibrant world.
We invest in serious journalism close to home too, as evidenced in Renata d'Aliesio's portrait of Dixon Road, the now famous corner of Etobicoke where drug gangs can prevail and rumours run rampant about the Ford family, as does a lot of local praise for their work. We've got an added exclusive to watch for, in the form of a political warning for Toronto Mayor Rob Ford from one of his closest advisers.
This weekend, and all through the coming week, we have a special focus on Quebec, using our two bureaus and a dispatch of critics to help our readers better understand the province. Why? A lot of headlines have gone to the minority PQ government in recent months, but we felt much less attention was going to the changing culture and economy of Quebec. Be sure to check out Sean Gordon's examination of the uncertain future of the F1 in Montreal, which has a unique Canadian relationship with racing. Our visual arts critic Sarah Milroy visits the Painting Project at Galerie de l'UQAM in Montreal , a show of 60 artists who are both known quantities and newcomers. And our chief Quebec correspondent, Sophie Cousineau, has lunch with Finance Minister Nicolas Marceau to take the measure of Canada's most indebted province.
We've launched a French language marketing campaign – "Votre Monde, Vos Affaires" – and ramped up our social media channel (follow us on Twitter @globequebec) in an effort to add readers in the province when so many other media outlets are in retreat.
Please come back to our site through the week for more on Quebec as our sports team examines the state of professional fighting, political reporter Daniel Leblanc profiles the looming federal Liberal-NDP battle in the riding of Bourassa and food critic Chris Nuttall-Smith samples some of Montreal's culinary delights. It's a Quebec as seldom seen.
Bon week-end du Grand Prix,