The Boston Globe, New England's largest regional newspaper by circulation, has launched its new website, BostonGlobe.com, marking its official entrance into the digital subscription market.
Prior to Monday, when the site launched, readers looking for the Globe’s content online went to Boston.com, a free website that generates revenue through advertising. In addition to journalistic content, Boston.com offers features like events listings and e-retail, making it a more then just the newspaper's digital doppelganger.
While Boston.com has been extremely popular, the Globe’s brain trust has devoted this new site, which it announced last year, entirely to the newspaper’s content. It was a decision sparked by its research into Boston.com’s audience.
“What we noticed was that there were really two audiences going to Boston.com,” said publisher Chris Mayer. “One type of reader was looking for general news and information, breaking news, anything that was happening, things to do and e-commerce -- what you’d use a community portal for.” The other wanted the more typical journalistic experience.
That realization was just part of the motivation for the new site. Other factors include the continued migration of readers from the print space to the digital one and the constant search for new revenue streams.
Hence a subscription site. All readers will be able to access the new site's content free of charge until the end of September, at which point the paywall will go up. Consumers can pay $3.99 a week ($208 a year) for a digital subscription while print subscribers are granted free access.
“There’s an increased willingness to pay for quality content,” Mayer said. “You can see that with what the New York Times experience has bee in terms of the adoption of a digital only subscriber base.” The Times, whose parent company owns the Globe, has lured in more digital subscribers than expected since launching in March.
The difference between Boston.com and the new site is substantial. Boston.com will continue to get a certain amount of the Globe’s content, but its main purpose will be as the community portal Mayer referred to.
The vast majority of the journalistic content – about 75 percent says editor-in-chief Marty Baron -- will be exclusive to BostonGlobe.com. One of the notable exceptions is with sports news and analysis, a result of the intense competition in that market.
“The user of BostonGlobe.com is a person who wants the full range of coverage we have, who likes to read, likes to read stories in depth and likes the reading experience of a newspaper,” Baron said.
That is why emphasis of the new site will be on the content – both written and visual – which means that advertising plays a much smaller role.
That makes for a cleaner site with a flexible reading interface, particularly when it comes to different devices. Rather than create a native application, the Globe opted to create a site that could be adapted to a computer, a tablet or a phone.
“We believe mobile and tablet devices will be the bulk of our readership,” said Jeff Moriarty, VIce President of Digital Content. “We wanted to build a site that had that in mind.”
It has applike features, such as the ability to save stories and read them offline and an emphasis on photos and other multimedia, but it is still distinctly a website.
“We wanted it to work somewhere between website and app,” Moriarty said.
Despite all of the optimism emanating out of the Globe camp, the new site does raise some questions.
Given that print subscribers will be able to access the new site for free and that the Globe considers itself a regional paper, who will buy the digital subscriptions? And despite research indicating two audiences, will removing a large chunk of the newspaper's content from Boston.com affect its large readership?
Mayer does not seem a problem, citing the university-centric city's large ex-pat population and a broad market for subjects like Boston sports and its key industries.