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The Toronto Star has just announced that they will be launching a subscription model (aka paywall) for their website in the coming weeks. This is hot on the heels of their competitor, The Globe & Mail, rolling out the same thing last week, to decidedly mixed reviews.

Complete details, such as how to register and what the remaining free content will be, are coming soon. But for now, the dozen-odd reader comments show a distinct lack of enthusiasm for the plan. Some samples:

“I pay for TV and internet, I am not paying anymore…”

“The nickel and diming never stops…this is going to backfire on all the newspapers…”

“You start charging me for what was already free and I’ll get my news somewhere else. Not a threat, just the facts.”

There were a few positive comments, too. One reader says, “I have no qualms about paying for quality journalism. We shouldn’t expect that the product of labour—researching, reporting, writing, editing, publishing—should be free.”

Another adds, “If you’re too cheap to spend less than $1/day to read a great newspaper then why should The Star or their advertisers care to see you go?”

Many others are adopting a wait-and-see approach. If there really is premium content, some seem willing to pay for it. But if it’s just regular news, that’s a different story (no pun intended). We have two daily commuter newspapers in Toronto which are given away—in paper—totally free, paid for by advertising. There are also RSS feeds, Google News, blogs and many free sources. If there is a big story going on, you won’t miss it. So I understand why people aren’t willing to pay for stuff they can get for free elsewhere. The trick will be to see if papers can actually develop content that isn’t just run-of-the-mill.

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Editor’s note: As something of a newspaper junkie, I’d like to go out on a limb and make a prediction regarding the two new online paywalls coming from our journalism neighbors up north. In the United States, the New York Times seems to be one of the few print dailies that has succeed at turning its previously free online edition into a (mostly) paid product. Of course, it’s easy enough to understand why: The Times produces high-quality journalism that is anything but run-of-the-mill. And as Joanna rightly points out above, it’s tough to charge people for something that’s easily accessible elsewhere for free.

Aside from The Times, for instance, a number of so-called hyperlocal news blogs have succeeded throughout the U.S. at charging readers for content—but only in those instances where comparable news isn’t available for free.

As for my prediction: Anyone who knows news can tell you that Canada’s version of the New York Times is The Globe & Mail. But the Toronto Star? Not so much. It’s a good paper, but unlike The Globe & Mail, which I think will eventually succeed at its paid content model, I suspect the Toronto Star will ultimately fail. We’ll see, I suppose. (And if you’re a Canadian or an international newshound, we’d love to hear your prediction, too.) —D.E.


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