Toronto Star tries to offset advertising losses with new digital paywall

The front page of the online edition of The Toronto Star, is shown on Tuesday August 13, 2013.The Toronto Star has joined the mass of other Canadian newspapers to monetize their website, launching a "digital access" program on Tuesday.

Like other sites, the Star says it will charge for access to content online, while allowing a few free views every month before the paywall kicks in.

"This marks a major transition for the Star that will help us provide, in print and online, the best and most comprehensive package of news and information in Canada," Publisher John Cruickshank said in an article posted on Tuesday.

The announcement that the Star, Canada's largest newspaper by readership, would go behind a paywall had actually been made late last year. Some had begun to wonder when the newspaper would implement the change.

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The Star is just the latest major Canadian newspaper to slip behind a paywall. The Globe and Mail already has one in place, as do Postmedia papers, including the National Post and Montreal Gazette, and the Quebecor-owned newspapers including the Toronto Sun.

There's no great secret behind the move. The newspaper industry is struggling, and seeking new revenue streams to make up for a dramatic downturn in subscriptions and print advertising sales.

Quebecor recently shut down 11 local newspapers and cut their staff by 150 people. Postmedia similarly struggled last quarter, posting a $112 million loss.

On Monday, it was reported that the Globe and Mail would stop delivering to Newfoundland and parts of northern British Columbia, with subscribers in the area being offered a discount on digital subscriptions.

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The Toronto Star's online subscription is being relied on to make up some financial ground being lost by parent company Torstar Corp. Print advertisement revenue dropped 16 per cent in the first quarter of 2013 at a cost of about $11 million.

The Canadian Press reports that isn't the only change coming for the company. Two sites focused on local business, YourMississaugaBiz and YourHamiltonBiz, were shut down on Monday.

Notably, both sites had been paywalled earlier this year.

That is not to say paywalls cannot succeed. According to the Globe and Mail's editor-in-chief, the newspaper has found success since launching its online subscription service last year.

John Stackhouse told a media conference in June that the Globe now has more digital readers than print readers. The paper touts more than 90,000 online subscribers, with "tens of thousands" of those being online-only readers.  He added the site is slowly recovering after losing about 40 per cent of its readers when it launched the paywall.

The Star would clearly prefer to retain its readers from the start, or at least hope for a similar rebound. In his announcement, Cruickshank appealed to readers to invest in “high-quality reporting, ground-breaking investigations, opinion writing and digital innovation.”

The price for digital access is about $5 if you subscribe to the newspaper and $10 if you do not.

But never fear, even if you don't sign up for a digital subscription you will continue to have access to the newspaper's classified advertisements and obituaries.

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