The Future of Journalism is Not Paid Content

newsday

That’s the conclusion one could draw from this New York Observer piece on the dismal failure of the decision by Newsday, a Long Island daily newspaper, to put their content behind a pay wall.

In late October, Newsday, the Long Island daily that the Dolans bought for $650 million, put its web site, newsday.com, behind a pay wall. The paper was one of the first non-business newspapers to take the plunge by putting up a pay wall, so in media circles it has been followed with interest. Could its fate be a sign of what others, including The New York Times, might expect?

So, three months later, how many people have signed up to pay $5 a week, or $260 a year, to get unfettered access to newsday.com?

The answer: 35 people. As in fewer than three dozen. As in a decent-sized elementary-school class.

That astoundingly low figure was revealed in a newsroom-wide meeting last week by publisher Terry Jimenez when a reporter asked how many people had signed up for the site. Mr. Jimenez didn’t know the number off the top of his head, so he asked a deputy sitting near him. He replied 35.

Michael Amon, a social services reporter, asked for clarification.

“I heard you say 35 people,” he said, from Newsday’s auditorium in Melville. “Is that number correct?”

Mr. Jimenez nodded.

Now, there are some mitigating factors here; a good chunk of Long Island’s population doesn’t need to pay to access the content, as they get free access already due to their print subscription to Newsday or to the local cable company (part-owned by Newsday’s owners).

Having said that, Newsday invested $4m in the website redesign and relaunch (Jesus, was it coded in caviar or something?). A $9,000 dollar return isn’t exactly good business.

I mention all this in the context of our regular discussions here on the future of soccer media, which in the United States is particularly vulnerable to the failure of newspapers to find a profitable model to continue paying for real journalism.

This snippet about Newsday is just another indication that the paywall model needs serious refinement if it’s to work outside the confines of business reporting, which has what at least readers will perceive as a direct monetary value and scarcity value for subscribers.

But in terms of a general interest newspaper, the fact Newsday has attracted a whole 35 subscribers is right now sending shudders up the spines of executives from the Times of New York to the Times of London.

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