By H.G. Watson, Associate Editor
If you want to read National Observer stories, you’re going to have to start paying for them.
On May 27, the online climate, energy and politics focused publication put up a paywall. Readers now get two free articles a month. After that, they can pay 27 cents a story, or $11.99 for a monthly subscription—the lowest subscription model available. Loyal readers can pony up $129.99 for a yearly subscription.
Linda Solomon Wood, the CEO of Observer Media Group and editor-in-chief of the National Observer, said that while crowdfunding has helped support the work of both the National Observer and its sister publication the Vancouver Observer, the former publication had reached a point where people should be paying for it.
“We have a product that's valuable that people should pay for it. It's really that simple,” she said.
The National Observer was founded in 2015, funded through a Kickstarter campaign that brought in over $80,000, and additional investments. Unlike its sister publication, which focuses on local Vancouver news, The National Observer focuses on climate, energy and politics. The site premiered on April 22, 2015, immediately drawing attention for its reporting on political revelations included in Senator Mike Duffy’s redacted diary, and a story from former Global reporter Bruce Livesey about the Koch brothers holdings in Alberta.
Since the site launched last year, the National Observer has had about 5 million unique visitors, 32 percent of which are return visitors. The audience is primarily Canadian, but about 10 percent of all their traffic comes from the United States.
Some start-ups continue to rely on crowdfunding to support their work. But continually fundraising can be draining. And outlets like The Halifax Examiner and allNovaScotia.com have both achieved sustainability using a subscription model.
Recently Winnipeg Free Press publisher Bob Cox said that the newspaper has found success with its micropayment model. Solomon Wood also cited the New York Times growing digital subscriber base as encouragement.
“We're business so we have to have a revenue model that works,” Solomon Wood said. Their goal is to get 10,000 subscribers in the next three years. If they achieve that, they can start thinking about hiring more reporters.
The Vancouver Observer will remain for now a free online publication, though Solomon Wood said that the National Observer would act as a testing ground for future business models. “Hopefully we can apply it to the Vancouver Observer,” she added, noting that with more revenue, they could hire more local reporters as well.