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One of the most unusual efforts to make money from a newspaper web site launches today in Boston, slightly less than a year after plans were announced. For the rest of September, BostonGlobe.com, which went live overnight, will be open to registered users through a sponsored free trial. Come Oct. 1, most of the content from the second-largest New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) paper will be available only to print subscribers and those willing to pay $3.99 a week — $208 a year — for online-only access.
Unlike sites that have been open access until a “paywall” goes up, technically BostonGlobe.com launches as a subscription-only site. But the same content has been free until now through regional news and info site Boston.com, which will no longer will house the complete paper. Overall, Editor Martin Baron estimates that about three-fourths of the newspaper’s content will now only be available on BostonGlobe.com.
The goal is to keep Boston.com high traffic by keeping it open, while developing BostonGlobe.com for subscribers. Boston.com still will have fresh newsroom-produced daily content, including 20 new blogs and breaking news, and will feature some articles from the newspaper. (Here’s the FAQ on Boston.com.)
Baron describes it as “two different sites for two different kinds of reader — some understand journalism needs to be funded and paid for. Other people just won’t pay. We have a site fior them.”
The “content rules” that govern what should show up where may be a little complicated but planners have tried for simplicity in other ways. No meters for BostonGlobe.com like its corporate sib Nytimes.com — although it will respect first clicks from social media links, no complicated digital payment plans — and a number of other aspects that make it stand out:
— No BostonGlobe.com apps. Instead, the site is based on HTML5 “responsive design”, an app-like offering that reflexively re-sizes depending on the device and screen. Everything from the front page to the photo galleries to the HTML5 crossword puzzle (built on technology developed first by the New York Times) is designed to work via browser. That includes a “MySaved” feature that allows users to save stories via the browser on one PC or device and not only open them in another, but quickly save them for offline reading on a new device. It even works in the experimental browser on a Kindle so imagine the potential for the pending Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) tablet. (Note: Ethan Marcotte, known for pioneering this kind of design, worked with the Globe.)
During a demo, Jeff Moriarty, VP of digital products, talked up the potential: “The intention is for it to get smarter and smarter. I’d like it to be individually personalized eventually.” But he also was careful to note that they’re trying to avoid doing too much. Readers asked for a site that looked like the familiar Boston Globe — hence the same fonts — and a lot less like other sites, including Boston.com. The responsive design allows them to focus on overall design rather than making versions for different devices.”We have all of these different versions from one code base so we don’t have to update multiple versions.” Unlike other sites that have to redesign or retool using existing cloth, Moriarty knows he was lucky. “We had the benefit of building a new site from scratch in 2011.” They don’t get to avoid that altogether — they’re planning a refresh of Boston.com early next year.
— One price fits all: Unlike NYTimes.com, which offers a smartphone plan, an iPad plan and all-access, BostonGlobe.com only has one subscription price — $3.99 a week, about $208 a year. Print subscriptions, which include access with any variation, can run as low as $1.75 a week, making print plus digital the better deal. Publisher Christopher Mayer explained in a pre-launch interview: “Because BostonGlobe.com was built using those techniques, we don’t have separate solutions with different devices.” He added, “Your relationship will be that web site on any of the devices you have.”
— New ‘loyalty’ program: No wine club or access to editorial meetings but subscribers do get membership in a new loyalty program that includes special events and a “level of access” to our staff. “They might be able to have dinner with me or accompany a sports columnist to an event.” Mayer added, “The more we engage the readership of the Globe both in print and digital is good for us.”
— Most sports coverage stays free. Unlike some sites that see sports as one of the reasons people will pay, Globe Publisher Christopher Mayer and Editor Martin Baron know their audience well enough to realize that won’t play in sports-mad Boston. “Sports is a highly competitive envioronment up here,” Mayer said when I interviewed the two a few days before the launch. Cut off access and users are likely to head for one of its competitions like Comcast Sportsnet , BostonHerald.com or others in the crowded space.
Still, not all sports coverage is included — enterprise pieces done outside regular beat/season/post-season coverage will be subscription-only.
— Seven-day delays: Some content will take a week to show up on Boston.com, including restaurant reviews; health stories from the Monday health section; recipes from the food section, but not the stories; and travel stories. Boston.com will carry summaries of every story that it doesn’t feature.
— Different approach to ads: One research finding led to a different approach for advertising. Mayer said the majority of people see print ads as part of the overall reading experience. They wanted to provide that same kind of integration at BostonGlobe.com but with the awareness that digital ads are a lot less passive. With that in mind, he said, “we’ve adopted an ‘elegant integration’ of ads into the site designed to be part of that reading experience, to inform the reader, communicate a message.” As a result, ads are meant to be more limited and less imposing than on Boston.com.