Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Globe's head of digital products, Jeff Moriarty, discusses the origins of the new BostonGlobe.com and the temporary lowering of the paywall

The Boston Globe announced on Monday that it was lowering the paywall on its new website, BostonGlobe.com. This temporary offer will last two weeks, through May 6, and is being sponsored by Coldwell Banker.

Originally launched in September of last year (see original TNM post here), the new website is famous for its use of responsive design and its paywall strategy. The new site was developed by the Globe with the assistance of two local design firms, Filament Group and Upstatement (Upstatement also credits Ethan Marcotte and Mat Marquis as working on the project, with the Globe's digital design director Miranda Mulligan leading design efforts).

Since its launch, the Globe has managed to acquire 18,000 new digital subscribers, according to the last New York Times Company quarterly earnings statement. While this hardly puts a dent into the dramatic losses the paper has experienced in its print subscriber base – from 472,668 in March 1998 to 205,939 in September 2011 – it is, nonetheless, a step in the right direction.
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But now the paper has opened up the new site again.

"We wanted to have another window of time where people could really experience the site, use some of its features that maybe they've heard about but not been able to experience." Jeff Moriarty, Vice President, Digital Products at The Boston Globe, told me yesterday.

"It's really about getting more people to see the product, and sample the product."

If new readers to BostonGlobe.com like what they see they will pay just 99 cents for the first eight weeks of access, then the regular rate of $3.99 per week thereafter.

The site's design has been written about extensively (which is why I hesitated writing again about the site). Its responsive design was built using six different design configuations: 1200 pixels, 960px, 768px, 600px, 480px, and 320px, which accommodate a wide display, the iPad in both portrait and landscape, and the iPhone in both portrait and landscape. For further reading about the specs and the design of the site, I would refer you to this blog post on the Upstatement site.

Now that the site is open again, it is worth comparing the Boston Globe's vision of a modern website with that of the Chicago Tribune, a site I have criticized in the past. Well, I guess there is no comparison, as the BostonGlobe.com site is clearly the more attractive and readable site, no matter what device is used.



Jeff Moriarty joined the Globe as Vice President, Digital Products in August of 2010. Previously he had been at About.com (also a New York Times Company property) where he was SVP, Product Management. Prior to that he was Vice President, New Media at the New York Times Regional Media Group.

But his appointment was a return to Boston, where he previously worked on Boston.com, the paper's website prior to the launch of BostonGlobe.com.

I asked Moriarty to walk me through the origins of the new site.
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"It's been a relatively long lead up to launching BostonGlobe.com. It started prior to me getting here almost a year and a half ago," Moriarty said. "Obviously every newspaper is look for a pay model, at ways to monetize their content."

Moriarty said they have are developing a two-brand strategy with their websites.

"We've had Boston.com since 1995, it's grown to be one of the biggest portals in the country, if not the world," Moriarty said. "So there's been a lot of things Boston.com has done right over the years and one of those was that it wasn't just a newspaper, it was something more than that, and I think that 's why it has succeeded well beyond a lot of newspapers of our size.

"At the same time, the Globe was always a component of Boston.com, it was a piece of it, and the content was all free within Boston.com, but it was all under the Boston.com brand."

Moriarty described the three types of readers the paper believes it attracts online.

"One we called print engaged: print engaged readers favored a format and an approach that was similar to the newspaper," Moriarty said. "They liked hierarchical decisions by editors. They like to be shown what's important today, are familiar with print, enjoy print and the format." These account for about 20 percent of their readers, Moriarty said.

"The next biggest category was what we called online and mobile engaged: these were users who some people call news surveillance who tended to use a circuit of sites to find what they are looking for on any given day. They're very digitally savvy," Moriarty told me.

"There is some willingness to pay for content online. Print engaged audience had the most willingness toy for the right content and the right experience. This group was somewhere in between print engaged and the last group which was casual. Casual readers are not willing to pay for content necessarily. They're heavy users of social media. They are real snackers of content, they come in and out."

To attract those online readers willing to pay, the Boston Globe then chose to launch a new website, one that would be branded with the name of the paper. So while Boston.com will remain a real-time information source, open to all web users, the new BostonGlobe.com would offer analysis and in-depth journalism - it would be "know" website as opposed to the "now" website of Boston.com.



The team, Moriarty told me, that made this decision and moved forward included Chris Mayer, the Globe's publisher, Lisa DeSisto, Chief Advertising Officer and General Manager/Boston.com, Marty Baron, the Globe's editor, and Peter Doucette, Executive Director, Circulation, Sales and Marketing.



While the Boston Globe has gotten a lot of press concerning its new website, and much deserved recognition for its responsive design, it has been relying on outside vendors (for the most part) to launch mobile and tablet apps.

I spoke to Lisa DeSisto back on the first of September after the company had released its Boston.com Real Estate iPhone app along with its first iPad app, The Big Picture from Boston.com (the app is actually universal).

But since that time, the paper has a replica edition magazine app, DESIGN New England through Texterity, as well as its new The Boston Globe ePaper app, which is an enhanced replica edition powered by NewspaperDirect. (There is also an older replica edition app for The Boston Globe Magazine that can be found under the name of the developer, Texterity.)

"We made a conscious decision to focus initially on a website that worked on every device, and worked better than any other site by really embracing responsive design philosophy," Moriarty explained. "There were a lot of reasons for that. We were starting from scratch in late 2010 to design and build this thing in 2011. HTML5 was really emerging as a standard and browsers were starting to support it increasingly. We very much believe in the future of HTML5 and web based apps."

Combined with the launch of a new content management system, Moriarty believes they've had a lot on their plates.

"The way we're thinking about apps," Moriarty said, "it's still on an ongoing process for us. We're looking more now at not just taking BostonGlobe.com and putting it in an app just to do it – it already works great on the iPad or the iPhone – so I don't just see us taking the site as it is and shoveling it into a native application."

"But," Moriarty added, "we are looking at specialized apps or slices of our content where an app would make sense."

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