I stumbled across an interesting development this morning. The Hamilton Spectator, my hometown newspaper, recently erected a paywall. A quick google search told me that the paywall was installed a month ago (On or around September 13 2011).
This appears to be Torstar’s first experiment with the paywall model. (I could be wrong, so feel free to provide me with additional info in the comments below). Similar to Postmedia’s paywall experiment and the paywall experiments of the NY Times and others, Torstar is now entering the fray to try to monetize it’s content.
I’m curious to know why it took a month for the paywall message to appear for me – I am a regular reader of The Spec online and I should have received a notification on earlier visits to the site as well, no?
One thing that strikes me as a bit odd is the cap on free stories each month: The Spec is offering free access to 35 stories a month, after which visitors will be required to pay $6.95 a month ($2.95 a month if you are already a print subscriber) to read additional content.
35 stories a month? That’s almost double what the New York Times and the Postmedia papers (the Montreal Gazette and the Victoria Times Colonist) are capping. And, Torstar’s flagship paper, The Toronto Star, has no paywall. For years, my dad used to complain that The Hamilton Spectator was “full of yesterday’s news. Why should I read about it again?” And that was 15 years ago! I really enjoy the crime reporting in The Spec (go Susan Clairmont!), but I think I’ll be hard pressed to find 35 stories that can only be found on thespec.com, and that will thus force me to embrace the paywall.
Might we infer from the 35 story cap that The Spec is inferior to other major papers? If that’s the case, then is this a good test of the Paywall model for Torstar? Alternately, is this a different test of the paywall model with a higher cap? If so, I hope that site visitors will be sufficiently tempted by unique content to want to read 35+ stories on the site per month. And, I also wonder if there’s a way around the paywall, similar to the NY Times’ unfortunate paywall sidestepping issue (is that a bug or a feature?).
One last thing: It would be great to see some metrics from the companies that are testing the paywall model. Similar to the old high school “hypothesis, test, analyze, report” way of doing things, I’d love to see some objective reporting on the true measure of paywall effectiveness. Does such reporting exist yet? If so, can you please provide links to that kind of research in the comments below?
It’ll be interesting to see how this experiment pans out. I’m all for trying to monetize content, and time’ll tell if this model works. Good luck to Torstar and their paywall experiment!