It’s been a busy few weeks for Atlantic publishing organization SaltWire Network, with the media company unveiling a spate of changes to its east coast operations.
In the last week of February, SaltWire joined the growing ranks of outlets putting premium content up behind a paywall, shortly before announcing at the beginning of March that it would sell 10 company buildings.
SaltWire, which was formed in 2017 and currently owns 35 newspapers in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, has also axed Canadian Press as its wire service in favour of Postmedia.
“One of the biggest challenges we have with CP is that in Atlantic Canada, there are a number of other media sources that use CP,” Colette O’Hara, the chief strategy officer at SaltWire, told J-Source. “For us to spend a pretty significant amount of money on that newswire to only get commodity content that other people can get for free seems crazy.”
The outlets will also use Reuters content for international coverage.
“The switch to Postmedia was really about us needing a defined wire source that was unique in Atlantic Canada,” she said.
The only other Maritime media source that runs Postmedia content is Brunswick News, which sits behind a hard paywall and does not publish any free content.
For now, O’Hara said the metered paywall will only affect two publications, the Guardian and the Journal Pioneer, which serve communities in PEI.
Readers will be limited to three free “premium” articles a month. Online subscriptions for the publication will cost $4.99 for the first three months, and will then increase to $14.99 per month. Print subscribers have unlimited access to all online content.
“The work we do does not happen without professionalism and a commitment to excellence,” said SaltWire president and CEO Mark Lever in a letter to readers. “After years of being uncertain about what our future holds, today it’s clear local news, deep insights and diverse perspectives have an important role to play.”
O’Hara said the move is a response to changing consumer behaviour, supported by a 2016 Digital Journalism study on shifting attitudes around paid content in six countries.
Researchers found that people who don’t pay for news today would begin to pay if they weren’t getting “commodity content,” which is content that they would be able to get anywhere else for free.
“There has been a great deal of thought and research and we have talked to jurisdictions around the world, really trying to get a handle on how to step into the shift in the marketplace and really rethink how we are doing business,” said O’Hara.
As a result, the organization is focusing more on creating premium content that is unique to its publications, and creating articles that consumers cannot get anywhere else.
The company hopes to gain 20,000 digital subscribers over the upcoming year with this new paywall, said O’Hara.
The ten properties for sale include one in Charlottetown, where the Guardian has operated since 1956, as well as nine other properties across the Maritime provinces. O’Hara said this is largely because they no longer need so many buildings, as more of their newsroom staff opt to work from home.
“Our operations have just changed so dramatically, we are not as infrastructure focused as we would have been back in the days when newspapers first existed,” said O’Hara.
The changes are not expected to lead to any layoffs, she said, and the 90 employees that are currently at the Guardian will be moving to a new location once the current one is sold.
“Ultimately, the way that we secure subscriptions is by having great content and we don’t get great content without great people in the seats,” said O’Hara. “Our ability to increase subscriptions and our ability to hold on to good talent are absolutely synonymous.”