The Montreal Gazette and Victoria Times Colonist, part of the Postmedia News chain that includes the Calgary Herald and the Edmonton Journal, introduced “metering” systems on May 25, 2010 that allow access to their websites for a defined number of stories per month and asks for a subscription payment for any additional access, with some exceptions. At the Montreal website, there will continue to be no charge for viewing blogs and breaking news stories. At the Times Columnist site, the home page and the section fronts remain free to browse, along with breaking news, classifieds, contests and blogs. Subscribers to the print version of the Montreal paper will have free access online. Victoria print subscribers pay a preferred rate for the digital version. Although the Journal isn’t part of the pilot program, they “will be watching the results with interest, said publisher John Connolly. User-pay models have already been adopted by the New York Times and other major newspapers in Britain and the US.
A great deal has been written about the economics of publishing newspapers in 2011,” the Gazette said in a statement to readers. “The old model — selling newsprint products very cheaply to readers and selling the audience to advertisers for the majority of the income — is increasingly challenged.
At the same time Postmedia was announcing their user-pay pilot program, Huffington Post announced it had surpassed the New York Times in readership. They have 35 million readers who are not paying compared to 33 million New York Times readers that are paying. Readership numbers were confirmed by comScore the advertising industry standard.
The leapfrogging did not come as a surprise to the New York Times, according to the Atlantic Wire. When they instituted the paywall on March 28, 2011, Bill Keller the Times executive editor said he expected traffic to take a hit in the short run. Meanwhile, he’s betting that the additional revenue brought in would justify the difference in traffic numbers when it came down to the bottom line. The race to beat the Times took another turn in April when the Daily Mail from the UK passed the Huffington Post in traffic, leading many to realize that it wasn’t just a head-to-head between the two American sites and it was likely the New York Times had their head in the sand in terms of their online business model.