Canada wall flag
Credit: Image by vonsorb on Flickr. Some rights reserved
The first piece of advice shared by the editor-in-chief of Canada's Globe and Mail in a presentation today was "paywalls work when they have great content behind them". John Stackhouse was speaking at the World Editors Forum currently taking place in Bangkok.

The Globe and Mail moved to a digital subscription model last year. "And we did not apologise" to readers, he explained.

The title, which has more than 300 journalists, now has more digital than print readers – and some days has more mobile readers than people accessing the site on a desktop.

Stackhouse said that the title was considering putting a section behind a wall, such as business, but audience research suggested a general willingness to pay.

The Globe and Mail now has more than 90,000 subscribers, and "tens of thousands" of purely digital subscribers.

It suffered a drop in traffic as a result of the introduction of the wall, with a 40 per cent decrease as casual readers were pushed away, Stackhouse said. But the title is "slowly recovering" traffic as the team focus their energies on and implement the lessons learned.

Interestingly, the Globe and Mail colour-codes articles internally. Green content is free and includes horoscopes and weather; yellow content is available for the metered paywall, with readers able to access 10 articles before being required to pay; blue is for niche content, which is subject to metering but the dial can be changed; and red is premium content that is available to subscribers only.

When moving towards implementing the paywall, the Globe and Mail addressed three questions: What do readers value most that they can't get anywhere else? What areas of content drive most loyalty? When do readers use our core content most actively?

And they have learned a number of lessons along the way:
  • Readers want personalisation tools, offering the ability to save stories, and for news alerts, Stackhouse explained, so the Globe and Mail now offers such tools to subscribers.
  • The churn rate is reassuringly low, with 90 per cent of people who signed up for a 99 cent trial deal then paying the full subscription price of $20 a month.
  • "Good journalism drives readership" and the brand is the primary reason people subscribe.
  • "Journalists can thrive behind the wall", with Globe and Mail personalities driving readership.
  • "Paying readers are more engaged", consuming more content and for longer, but subscribers are demanding too in that they require fresh content. "Be prepared to produce a lot more," Stackhouse told conference delegates considering a subscription model.
  • Another lesson Stackhouse offered is to "plan for audience disruption". For example, the Canadian title learned that midweek readers are very active and was able to respond to such an insight by adding reporters to popular areas.
  • "Promote metered and free content," Stackhouse suggests. Health and education are two popular areas with non-subscribers and the title is therefore investing in those areas and adding reporters, with the idea of converting non-paying readers to subscribers if they see value in the content.
  • "Reward your subscribers," Stackhouse recommends, such as by giving away ebooks and inviting them to events.
  • "Take advantage of news," he added. By producing quality journalism around big news events the site has increased traffic and subscribers.

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