The iTunes-style online subscription will charge 27 cents per story, with a money-back guarantee.

[[{“fid”:”4066″,”view_mode”:”default”,”fields”:{“format”:”default”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:””,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:””},”type”:”media”,”link_text”:null,”attributes”:{“height”:”681″,”width”:”1440″,”style”:”width: 400px; height: 189px; margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; float: right;”,”class”:”media-element file-default”}}]]By Chantal Braganza, Associate Editor

A couple of weeks ago, regular readers of the Winnipeg Free Press’s website started seeing pop-up boxes every so often when they brought up a new article, asking them to register for a reader’s account. After only paywalling readers outside of Canada since 2011, the paper will soon join the rest of Canada’s major urban dailies in charging readers for online access (with the exception of the Toronto Star, whose wall drops on April 1). The team behind the launch wanted to make sure readers would be ready. The paywall, which will go into full effect over the next six weeks, won’t work like most.

Built on a micro-payment model, the Free Press’s paywall will charge readers on a per-read basis—27 cents per article, to be exact. While similar to a couple of startup news apps in Europe and Australia, by Christian Panson’s estimation, it will be the first per-article newspaper paywall of its kind in North America. 

“We had no place to look to see if micro-payments will work,” said Panson, vice-president of digital content and audience revenue. “So this is new territory for us.” 

Planning for the paywall began in February 2014, he said. “My publisher at the time, as well as executive, looked around at the marketplace and thought it was time to do it,” he said. “We’d held off because we didn’t see a lot of success.”

“We did a bunch of analyses to see what micro-payment environments look like. Apple does it with 99-cent songs, or $1.99 apps.” 


Blendle, a Netherlands-based news app that launched its beta version in April 2014, does it by aggregating Dutch newspapers and magazines into one platform, from which readers can read single articles for a nominal fee—and get their money back if they arent satisfied with the purchase. Last October, Blendle’s developers received US$3.8 million funding from The New York Times Company and German publisher Axel Springer to expand the app’s presence in Europe. Other apps built on a similar premise launched in 2014, such as Inkl in Australia and in the United States.

Similar to Blendle, the Free Press’s paywall will offer a money-back guarantee for each article on the site (readers can click a refund button at the end of each piece). And rather than charge a reader each time he or she loads a new article, the paywall will tally a subscriber’s 30-day tab and charge a registered credit card at the end of the month. (An unlimited subscription will also be available for $16.99 per month.) 

Part of the rationale behind this model—versus the metered paywall, which requires a subscription beyond a certain number of free articles in a 30-day period—was to avoid the drop-off that often happens once readers start hitting their monthly limit of free reads.

“People don’t tend to reward their future selves. The first 10 articles are worth nothing—and then you read the 11th and it’s worth $20.” On the Free Press’s site, readers can access up to three articles per month before having to register for an account, and links from Google, Twitter or Facebook will still be paywalled.

“We’re going to gauge the success of this, to see if it strikes a chord and works—either it’s successful or it’s not. In a perfect world, we’d bring this to the other products,” he said, referencing FP Canadian Newspapers Limited Partnership’s other properties. “And potentially working with partners as well.”