On Tuesday, EDGENorth.ca, a hyperlocal, bimonthly magazine based in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, Canada, announced that it was dropping its paywall and making all of its stories, including archives, free to readers. They are also reducing their publication schedule to refocus their attention to their free, newly-redesigned print magazine which is distributed to racks and homes around Yellowknife. They are not, however, issuing refunds to subscribers.
Angela Gzowski explained that the change was due, in part, to the media outlet’s dual role serving EDGENorth and parent company Verge Communications. Gzowski said that it became difficult to juggle their responsibilities to put out daily content and provide good customer service to their valued subscribers.
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“Looking back, we also tried to do too much, too soon, in a very small market,” said Gzowski. “As some of you noticed, we scaled back our publication schedule earlier this month. After realizing this move wasn’t fair to our editorial team or, more importantly, our subscribers, we’re making today’s move to ensure what we’re doing is sustainable.”
“We’ll continue publishing news, analysis, opinion and lifestyle pieces, both in the magazine and on the site. Just not every day,” she added, before dropping the bad news.
“Unfortunately, every dollar from subscriptions has gone to paying staff salaries, contributors and other related expenses, which means we aren’t in a position to offer refunds,” Gzowski explained. “That said, we’ll continue providing subscribers free admission to all upcoming EDGE events. And as we pour our energy back into the print magazine, we invite you to keep reading and contributing through story submissions, hot tips, and feedback.”
Prior to the change, EDGE Online was part daily newspaper, part magazine and part community portal, covering news, commentary and feature stories on a variety of topics relevant to Yellowknife and across the Northwest Territories. As a companion to the print publication, the site included a monthly sample of stories and features, as well as a jobs board, real estate listings, rental listings, and restaurant and menu information.
Starting at $4.95 a month, subscribers would get access to EDGE Online, including premium editorial content, archives dating back to 2011, and a web-friendly version of each EDGE YK magazine before it was distributed in print.
What’s next? In addition to removal of the paywall and reducing their publication schedule, EDGE is in discussions to publish an online guide to Yellowknife and a special Indigenous-focused edition of the print magazine.
While we appreciate the publication’s transparency about removing the paywall and not issuing refunds, this announcement concerns us on a couple of different levels. First, it seems like the publication has tried a few different business models since its 2011 launch, including an ad-supported model and online subscriptions. The latter wasn’t sufficiently successful, so the company returned to what it knows, an ad-supported model.
This move makes us wonder how the subscription model was executed. In the announcement, Gzowski said that their subscriber base grew every month, but the site remained a labor of love. How did they measure success, or KPIs? What were their subscriber goals? Why did the model fail?
Second, the subscribers signed up for specific perks including premium content, which they are not going to get, yet the publication is not able to issue refunds. They have also not clearly explained how they will compensate subscribers for their loyalty and commitment without issuing refunds. This does not seem well thought out, and it is a lousy way to treat subscribers.
To resolve this issue, EDGE needs to make things right with subscribers, and quickly. They need to figure out what they can offer in exchange for subscription dollars already received, and they need to communicate that to subscribers personally, not just in a post on their website. Whether that means offering refunds, premium content, exclusive access to their archives or something else, EDGE needs to offer something or jeopardize losing readers and damaging their reputation.