Judgement Day: Does the Boston Globe's paywall site have a chance in hell?

The Boston Globe's long-awaited paywall is here! Aren't you super-psyched about forking over $3.99 a week to read Boston Globe journalism? Good, because Marty says you're not allowed to read online for free anymore. However: if you'll allow the Globe to hand-deliver its four-pound doorstop of a Sunday print publication to your residence, the price of accessing the new drops to $3.50 per week. (If this gambit fails, we suggest they throw in the rest of the week's print run and drop the price to free.)

Confused? Good. Nothing about news makes sense these days: not paywalls, not the public's sense of its entitlement to get everything for free, not the absurdity of navigating the no-win situations of declining revenue, fragmenting readership, and endless possibility. I'm on record as being a fan of and a skeptic about the paper's strategy for splitting the baby. Let's talk some smack about the most highly-anticipated local media story of the year.

HOW'S THE DESIGN? Pretty damn impressive. It's the most remarkable element of the overhaul -- and not just because of its ultra-spare reading experience. Only supergeeks will be able to fully appreciate the huge-leap-forward design strategy behind the site's spartan new look, an HTML5 experience that resizes within the browser to fit any screen size. Instead of retrofitting a Web experience for mobile, the Globe has essentially done the opposite -- and more to the point, they've simplified design to such a natural state that those distinctions have become irrelevant. At the layout level, is poetry in motion. As Dan Kennedy points out over at Neiman Journalism Lab, this could be an end-around the iTunes store. (Um: but we sincerely doubt it. The metrics on HTML5 vs native apps are pretty clearly on the side of the native apps right now.) Even if the Globe eventually rolls out a native iPad app? The new site's "responsive design" feels like the way people are going to design web sites, period, in the immediate future. It's that good. 

HOW LEAKY IS THE PAYWALL? It's a little tough to tell just yet -- registered users can get an advertiser-subsidized free ride through the end of the month -- but it appears to be on the stricter end of the paywall spectrum. Come October, it'll keep you the hell out. The most perplexing decision, made months ago, was to keep the Globe's most-premium content -- Sports -- available for no charge. (In my perfect world, assholes would have to pay to read about the Sox, and I'd get to keep reading my old friend Yvonne Abraham for free.) Everything else from the newspaper -- with the exception of five stories per day -- is behind the wall. (It wasn't entirely clear what those five exceptions were today, since the whole thing is free: we think they had a couple 9/11 stories in the free slots this morning.) As with the Times, you can reportedly get past the paywall if you follow a link from Twitter, Facebook, or a blog. But as Josh Benton points out -- also over at Neiman -- there'll be a lot fewer people posting those links once the wall goes up for real in October. Unless, of course, some enterprising young nitwit realizes that there's a business model in aggregating the hell out of, because local readers will suddenly be in the market for free links that bypass the Globe's paywall. 

WHAT UP, BOSTON.COM? The Globe continues to believe it has two audiences, defined loosely as "those who'll pay for journalism" and "those who won't." They're right about the second part, at least. But here's the crucial question: Are they right in believing that [the group of people (who won't pay for journalism)] will be satisfied with what's left on Time will tell, but today's confirms our suspicions about how they're planning to fill the news gap: wire copy, and lots of it. For most of the day today, the only BostonGlobe news content that made it above the fold on was . . . the story about's launch. That came just below the lede item, on Bank of America slashing 30,000 jobs: exactly the kind of impact story you'd expect to see the Globe tackle. Except . . . ran it as an AP story. (Theoretically, if you paid for, you'd get the Globe's version of that story, right? Well, not exactly: also made the BOA story its lede -- with an article syndicated from Bloomberg News. So at least you know what you'll be paying for.) What about the rest of's center-column, which is typically ground-zero for Globe news? All wire copy, with the exception of the Globe's own sports stuff. 

The wire-copy approach may not last forever. The Globe has been announcing new bloggers: Ashley from Boston Band Crush debuted a local-music column last week, but (controversial opinion alert) that's probably not going to make up for them losing Charlie Pierce to Esquire. Larger question: will blogs and wire stories be anywhere near enough to fill the gap in the range of news, or the volume of news, that used to fill What the site could really use is an aggregation strategy that would make it the HuffPost of New England news, opinion, and culture. One suspects the Globe is leery of going down that path after its run-ins with Gatehouse, but in the meantime, their current strategy leaves's MetroDesk blog competing -- not entirely favorably -- with WBUR for drive-time news, and with UniversalHub or even startups like for real-time updates. Makes you wonder whether someone could invest in some cheap wire copy and compete directly with for news. Hmmmm...

HOW'S IT SEARCH? One of the smaller questions about will be whether articles behind a paywall will be penalized by search engines. Google has been promising some solutions along these lines. But what if the Globe just falls behind in search results for breaking-news topics? In my role as the editor of the Phoenix, I've been looking forward to this day for a long time -- because now that the Globe's arts coverage is behind a paywall, I suspect that our arts coverage will get more readers. (Apologies for lack of humility here, but ours has always been better -- it just hasn't always Googled that way.) Here's a completely unscientific and frankly self-serving anecdote: my review of Jeff Mangum's performance on Sunday night is currently the top item in Google News for a couple of Mangum-related searches. From past experience, I'd expect that to hold true right up until the Globe or Herald publishes their review of a show -- at which point our reviews drop in the rankings. That did not happen today, and the Globe's review has yet to show up in any of the seaches you'd expect to see it in. Thank you, paywall? (Footnote for Globe QA crew: the Globe review searched much better on Bing -- but the linked headline clicks through to a version of the article on the Cambridge YourTown site, which is either a minor bug or a very interesting feature. You tell us.)

HOW'S YOUR SPIN? The Globe is pitching as a new site. They're pointing out that the Globe, per se, has actually never had a website of its own -- which is only slightly disingenuous, because while Globe stories have always made up a large part of the site, it's true that even from the beginning, contained elements of community activity. Here's the other way of spinning this: congratulations to the Boston Globe for finally getting around to puting up a website. In 2011. Long may you block people from reading your stories . . . and helping ours reach more of Boston's deserving readers.

| More

 Friends' Activity   Popular 
All Blogs
Follow the Phoenix
  • newsletter
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • rss
Latest Comments
Search Blogs
Phlog Archives