Why Toronto Star abandoned its paywall ... and what’s next

The answer for dropping the paywall is simple: “It just wasn’t our growth strategy,” Sandy Macleod, chief operating officer/print at Toronto Star and Metro, told delegates at the INMA European Media Conference in Budapest, Hungary, on Tuesday.

In summer 2013, Toronto Star took the metered approach with 10 articles for free. Free access was granted, through social media and apps were left outside of the paywall. The price was set on C$9.99 per month.

From a marketing perspective, the company targeted three groups, MacLeod said:

  • Current Toronto Star subscribers.

  • Heavy thestar.com users.

  • Former Toronto Star print subscribers.

The company had a wide range of marketing tactics and put much effort into it. As a result, one one hand it had a great early momentum, hitting the ceiling quickly, MacLeod explained. But when staff looked at numbers, they realised the acquisition costs were too high and the digital traffic dropped more quickly than expected.

The game changer was that they went completely free and launched an iPad app. Content on the app is updated once a day, with interactive content and advertising. It is designed to be a lean-back publication, engaging readers with photo galelries, maps, videos, audio clips, and fact boxes.

Where there are risks, there are also great opportunities, MacLeod said. The company now plans to re-invigorate the Star brand and its journalism through:

  • Attracting new businesses.

  • Greater and deeper engagement.

  • Broadening its national reach.

Another opportunity is the potential for material digital revenues by:

  • Changing the conversation with advertisers.

  • Protecting existing marketer relationships and revenues.

  • Developing new marketer relationships. 

About Marek Miller

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