The Meter is Coming

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Telegram to limit free content at its web site

April 2, 2014 - Today is the last day that you can surf for free content on The Telegram’s web site. As of Thursday, a new metering structure will be put in place on the site.

Actually, I’d better correct that right off the top. There will continue to be free content at the site, but it will have a limit. Readers will be able to access six stories for free every 30 days.

This point was made clear by managing editor, Steve Bartlett, when I sent him an email, asking about the site’s new “paywall.”

“We’re not putting a paywall on the site,” Steve said, in his reply. “We’re putting a meter on it. These are two different things. The paywall locks out people completely who don't pay — they don't get to see what it is they would be paying for, even. Our meter allows readers to scan our site as much as they want, and they get to read six stories for free in a 30-day period.” 

After that, when visitors click a seventh story a message window will open, asking them to sign up for a fee of 30 cents per day (about $9 a month). That is actually fairly reasonable, and roughly half what the print edition would cost. That fee includes access to the e-edition of the paper, so it’s a much better buy. Current subscribers to the paper edition will not be asked to pay an extra cent, while Friday and Saturday subscribers can access web content by paying a top-up of $2.90 per month.

“The intent is that it will offset a small portion of the costs associated with producing the quality content The Telegram delivers every day, whether to your doorstep, your mobile phone or your computer screen,” Bartlett writes, in a message that appears in today’s paper and at the Telegram’s site.

“The introduction of a meter will also put a value on the commitment and efforts of our reporters, photographers, editors and columnists. They go to great lengths — and often make personal sacrifices — to provide readers with news, information and visuals that matter and that move you. Some people who’ve been consuming our content online at no charge for years will protest. We’ll listen to their concerns, but there’s no going back. The news business is evolving and meters are part of that evolution. Hundreds of newspapers already have them in place. For The Telegram, I think it’s about time.”

Read the complete message here.

Bartlett doesn’t get any argument from me, regarding paying for content. Web surfers have become accustomed to free content and newspapers have been making it available for years but this is not a sustainable model over the long term, especially as publications scale back and even close due to declining sales of their print editions.

That said, there is still the risk that some web surfers will abandon The Telegram site and migrate to others – such as VOCM and CBC – where the content is still free (they have different business models in place and are worthy of examination in future blogs). I asked Steve what’s at stake, and if he has concerns about losing readers.

“I don’t see this as a risk,” he said. “Our content has value and is important, and I know from our traffic, there is a huge public appetite for it. I’m not expecting that will change once the meter goes live tomorrow. If anything, based on our online growth and what we’re planning, I’m confident traffic will keep increasing. We provide journalism and commentary that has won provincial, regional and national awards. It’s worth paying for and we are only charging a nominal fee… We don’t expect everyone will like it. But we are confident in this move. A number of our sister papers have introduced metered access, and based on their experiences and our growing online presence, we see no downsides. Current daily subscribers won’t be affected by the meter. Heavy users, who’ve been getting our content for free, will be.”

I will be watching with interest as this plays out in the weeks ahead.

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