Sun Media's Sunshine Girls are packing their bikinis for a trip behind the paywall.
The newspaper chain will activate paywalls at its Sun newspapers in Ottawa, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton on Dec. 4, as it joins the ranks of Canadian publishers trying to make up for print advertising losses by asking readers to pay for online content. While some content will remain free, such as breaking news updates and content produced by bloggers, the rest will come at a cost.
The company told employees premium articles will include "all content created by Sun Media columnists, investigative reports by experienced journalists, complete access to all photo and video libraries, packaged/related content bundles, Sunshine Girl swimsuit and calendar footage."
The newspaper industry has been rocked by falling print revenue and stagnating digital revenue, with some saying that for every $7 papers are losing in print they are only picking up $1 online. The Globe and Mail put a metered paywall on its site in November that allows users to read 10 articles each month for free, and the Toronto Star and Postmedia Network Inc. (publisher of metro papers such as the Ottawa Citizen and Calgary Herald) have announced plans to implement paywalls early in the new year.
"Sun Media is deploying a metered access strategy in the five Sun markets as a means of generating new sources of digital revenue to help offset the decline in traditional print newspaper revenue," the company told its employees in an internal question-and-answer document preparing them for Tuesday's launch. "Fast, accurate and entertaining news reporting is one of the cornerstones of a great society."
The chain has already dabbled with paid content, putting up paywalls at the Journal de Montreal and Journal de Quebec in September. In a separate note, the company said "early results of this launch are very positive and lay a great foundation as we move towards the second phase of our launch."
Sun Media, which is owned by Quebecor Inc., said this month that it would cut 500 jobs at its 36 daily newspapers and more than 200 community papers to deal with the loss of revenue. The media division had 5,680 employees at the end of last year.
While Quebecor posted an $18-million profit in its last quarter, most of that was driven by its cable and cellphone divisions. Its news division suffered a lackadaisical third quarter, with revenue falling 3 per cent to $227-million compared to the same quarter a year ago. Advertising revenue dropped 7 per cent. Revenue fell 3 per cent at its Sun papers, while revenue at its smaller papers in communities such as Peterborough, Ont., and Portage La Prairie, Man., slipped 6 per cent.
The Sun papers will allow non-subscribers to read 20 premium articles a month before asking for a membership to its Sun+ service, which will cost $5.99 after an initial 99 cent trial. That gets readers access to one of the five papers – the company said it will create bundles that will allow users to browse content from out-of-market Sun papers as well.
While there are no plans to put up paywalls at its smaller papers, any stories posted from a Sun paper will redirect readers to the story's original site where a meter may be installed. The company's mobile apps will continue to be free, but will only contain condensed versions of the chain's stories.
"Like all things worth doing, professional journalism comes with a price," the company said. "Sun Media employs an extensive team of experienced journalists across the nation and across all media platforms. Deploying a paid digital strategy ensures that our visitors and readers can continue to count on us for quality and reliability."