A Tale of Two Sites: Globe Intros New Look for Paid Readers Only

Boston Paper Argues Experience, Not Just Content, Matters When It Comes to What's Behind Paywall

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When the Boston Globe's readers woke up Monday morning and went online to read the news, they encountered two very different sites.

Paying readers and home-delivery subscribers could read a clean, new BostonGlobe.com, abundant in negative space and low on ads, featuring the news prominently and limiting rich-media animation to one interstitial ad per day. At the paper's longstanding free site Boston.com, which will no longer feature the paper's entire product, readers came upon three or four ad units near the top of the page alone -- and more as they scrolled down, one or more of which probably showed off rich-media animation.

A tale of two websites: different presentations of ads and edit
A tale of two websites: different presentations of ads and edit

The shift to two sites -- one paid, one free -- comes after nearly a year of planning, delivering one of the more novel experiments in a host of trials by news sites that want to get their audiences to pony up dollars.

"There's been so much focus when people talk about pay models on what content is available, how much is available," said Martin Baron, editor of The Globe. "There's been less emphasis on what the experience is like. I think people will pay for a different kind of experience."

The new, paid BostonGlobe.com will only feature one ad above the fold and two in total on its homepage. It also includes a lot more white space than another sibling: The New York Times Online. The Times, whose cluttered site was recently called "a confusing and complex experience" by designer Andy Rutledge, shows the same amount of advertising to its paying readers as its nonpaying visitors. The NYTimes.com homepage on Friday included a pair of ads for Marc Jacobs plus units promoting ING Direct, Bloomingdale's and an apartment tower on West 57th Street .

The Globe and The Times are both part of The New York Times Co. Until today, Boston.com had been the home for all Boston Globe content on the web.

The push for elegant design extends beyond ads and into editorial layout and navigation. The new Globe site isn't going to chase page views as aggressively as most free sites, including Boston.com. Certain Globe content, such as news it posts during the day and most of its sports coverage, will still appear on the free Boston.com, but where Boston.com may break a column into several pages that readers must click through, BostonGlobe.com will post the whole piece on a single page.

"That less-cluttered reading experience is something that you get for being a subscriber," said Christopher Mayer, The Globe's publisher.

Unrestricted access to BostonGlobe.com is for home-delivery subscribers or people who pay $3.99 per week to read online, although readers who arrive through links from search engines, blogs and social media will be able to view individual articles. The homepage and section fronts will be free.

Coldwell Banker Residential Mortgage New England will occupy all the site's ad positions throughout September, part of a pact making the site free for everyone until the end of the month. October will see ads from JetBlue, the Museum of Fine Arts-Boston, the Museum of Science, Coldwell Banker and Pine Hills.

Engaged readers and an uncluttered environment could well benefit the site's advertisers. But too many constraints could turn buyers off.

Marketers like ads that expand, for example, when readers hover their cursors over them, said Andy Chapman, leader of digital trading at Mindshare. "Expandability has been a capability that many advertisers want and have found value in and get greater engagement with consumers from," he said.

There's also the question of whether this approach positions advertising as nothing more than a penalty for those who aren't willing to pay. But The Globe said that consumers are increasingly accustomed to choosing between versions of products that come with different prices and different levels of ads.

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