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Newsday.com moves to subscription model

Newsday is putting up a pay-wall on their news website beginning next Wednesday. The website is still free for those who subscribe to the newspaper or Optimum Online, a website owned by the internet cable service that also owns the paper.

Those who are not customers of Optimum Online or the newspaper – both owned by Bethpage-based Cablevision Systems Corp. – will have to pay a $5 weekly fee. However, nonpaying customers will have access to some of newsday.com’s information, including the home page, school closings, weather, obituaries, classified and entertainment listings. There also will be some limited access to Newsday stories.

Newsday described the move as one that would create a “pioneering Web model,” combining the newspaper’s newsgathering services with Cablevision’s electronic distribution capabilities. About 75 percent of Long Island households are Newsday home delivery or Cablevision online customers or both, according to Newsday. Optimum Online customers total 2.5 million in the New York area, the paper said.

Editor and Publisher interviews industry experts on the likely success of this model.

ewsday can take such gamble thanks to Cablevision’s online subscribers. If Newsday were to go this alone and not offer free access to Optimum Online users it would reach much less of its core market. According to Newsday’s most recent Audit Bureau of Circulations Audit Report for the year ending September 2008, Newsday’s average daily circulation covered 38% of Suffolk County and 36% of Nassau County.

Noted Ken Doctor, an affiliate analyst at Outsell Research and author of Content Bridges : “I think this is a one-off because of the unique nature of a cable company that owns a newspaper. I don’t see it as a model that applies to anybody else.”

Community Comments

#1 Ted Rall
October/23/2009
@ 11:39 am

This is LONG overdue. I’d like to see other papers–all other papers–emulate this move.

#2 Stephen Beals
October/23/2009
@ 1:16 pm

I agree, but it was interesting to read the comments about this from the (mostly younger) readers at fark.com. The consensus was that this would swiftly fail and I’m afraid they’re right.

Why is anyone going to pay for something they can get for free? Didn’t time.com, ew.com and nytimes.com (and probably others I don’t read) try this already?

I think all of the magazines and newspapers would have to do this at once for it to work. I couldn’t afford to renew my subscription to Entertainment Weekly but I continue to read most of it for free online. I don’t get it. They can’t possibly keep this up and remain in business.

#3 Ted Rall
October/24/2009
@ 8:29 am

“Why is anyone going to pay for something they can get for free?”

I pay $45 a month for a subscription to the NY Times. Why?

Convenience. All the articles are pre-printed out. If I want to refer to one later, I cut it out.

Portability. I can carry it with me to places, like buses and trains, that don’t have Internet connections.

Serendipity. I end up reading articles I wouldn’t otherwise read in the form of headline listings online.

Retention. There’s no proof of this, but I’m personally convinced that I don’t remember anything I read on a computer screen as well as words I read in print. (I’ve never tried a Kindle.) It’s certainly true about the NY Times.

How much do I value convenience of print? So much that I sometimes find myself away from home, knowing that the paper is waiting for me, but I buy an extra newsstand copy so I can read it then.

The big fallacy is to think that reading online and reading in print is the same thing. It’s not. I’ve argued with younger friends about this. It was a draw until circumstance (in one case, a bad case of Karpal) forced a move from online newspaper “reading” to the real thing: print. They all agreed; there’s just no comparison.

McDonald’s offers food; so does Spark’s Steak House in midtown Manhattan. Not the same.

“Didnâ??t time.com, ew.com and nytimes.com (and probably others I donâ??t read) try this already?”

The NY Times experiment failed because they only put a few features behind the paid subscription wall.

“I think all of the magazines and newspapers would have to do this at once for it to work.”

That would be ideal. At this point, however, the media needs an exception to anti-trust laws to allow it to collude in such a manner. If I were Rupert Murdoch, lobbying for this change would be my top priority.

#4 Stephen Beals
October/24/2009
@ 4:22 pm

And I share the same feelings, Ted. I absolutely love newspapers. I love the feel, look and convenience that they offer. I love in-depth reporting and little articles that I wouldn’t read otherwise. The only time I complained about newspapers is when I used to deliver them in 1983, but I got some good exercise.

The question of “why pay for something that’s offered for free” isn’t coming from you and me. It’s coming from kids in college and young adults. Those are the people that might be drawn into in depth reporting but aren’t because newspapers look more like cnn.com imitators these days. I’m only asking the question because younger people who have never had a love affair with newspapers cannot see what all the fuss is about.

I work in advertising. Up until two years ago my whole life revolved around newspapers. I could never take a vacation because I had tight deadlines. Now I can pretty much take a vacation anytime because my skills are being used to create internet ads and junk mail. We used to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on a single full-page ad and now I’m lucky if I get to produce a 15 inch ad for a sports section (which, yeah, I got to do this week). Newspapers aren’t getting our money anymore.

I didn’t realize it was an anti-trust issue. That’s interesting. You’re saying if all the newspapers in the country made a deal to charge 1 dollar a week to read their content that would be breaking the law? That’s insane. And that’s the only thing that I see stopping the free content. I would love to create ads for the newspaper again.

#5 Ted Rall
October/24/2009
@ 6:21 pm

Yes, Stephen, it’s an anti-trust issue. Pass that exemption and print organizations could get together and set prices for online content to prevent undercutting. Of course, nothing would prevent a paper from continuing to give their content away for free. It would be up to them. But collusion amounts to price-fixing, which is illegal.

As for how to convince the kids that print is better, I have faith that they’ll figure it out the same way they figured out that vinyl sounds better than CDs, which sound better than MP3s. A lot of hipsters buy LPs. How’d they find out? Word of mouth, no doubt.

Reading newspapers online is such a sucky experience compared to reading print that it’s only a matter of time before young people get the message. In the meantime, newspapers should give out free sample copies at colleges and airplanes and hotels to whet their appetites.

#6 Robert George
October/25/2009
@ 10:23 pm

Ok, I’m sorry, but this doesn’t seem to connect with me. I am not a cartoonist, but I do consume quite a bit of news, for work and for pleasure. “As for how to convince the kids that print is better, I have faith that theyâ??ll figure it out the same way they figured out that vinyl sounds better than CDs, which sound better than MP3s. A lot of hipsters buy LPs. Howâ??d they find out? Word of mouth, no doubt.” Vinyl is better. But vinyl is not convenient. Given the choice I’d rather a digital, inferior product I can transfer everywhere And that is why the music industry could not survive without MP3 and CD sales. And musician could not survive without all that plus touring. Vinyl is a niche. Newspapers cannot go on if their primary product is a niche.

The other problem paid content runs into is that certain organizations have incentives to avoid creating paywalls, like NPR, BBC, cable news networks (including Al Jazeera), local news stations, and pure online web organizations. While they may not be the grey lady (which is why NY Times could probably make it work, especially since some industries like mine need the info) they are just as good or better than many local paper outlets. Free and good enough is powerful against great. Free and good enough vs. paid and good enough is deadly for paid. It would truly be tragic if television news finally drove a stake in prints heart via the internet.

I don’t know what the future of news is. But I don’t think paywalls are the future for most newspapers.

That’s my ten cents anyway.

#7 Robert George
October/25/2009
@ 10:30 pm

Also, I forgot this: Stephen: “I couldnâ??t afford to renew my subscription to Entertainment Weekly but I continue to read most of it for free online.” If you can’t afford EW, they don’t really care if you read online or not. Actually, they’d rather you did because they can at least squeaze a little online ad revenue out of you and make you form a habit so you read online. Then, when you have money you order. The Atlantic and Sport Illustrated got me that way. The question isn’t why should they let guys like you read, but rather whether the revenue from letting you read offsets the guy who can read online and doesn’t subscribe. I don’t have the answer to that, but its really a different kind of question. I am guessing in EW’s case its primary readers are people who can’t or won’t read online (or are an office reading item) making you gravy.

#8 Ted Rall
October/26/2009
@ 11:20 am

People who read for free online because they can’t (or won’t) afford a $2 newspaper or $5 magazine aren’t very attractive to advertisers. Which explains the gap between print and digital ad rates.

#9 Robert George
October/26/2009
@ 11:54 am

“People who read for free online because they canâ??t (or wonâ??t) afford a $2 newspaper or $5 magazine arenâ??t very attractive to advertisers. Which explains the gap between print and digital ad rates.” True. Websites, however, cannot tell one type of hit from another, and neither can advertisers. So that reality may push down advertising rates, but it doesn’t change the incentive to have those people clicking. It does suggest that for some magazines or papers the clicks will worth less than the free riders who read online and don’t subscribe but would if forced to (minus the people who get hooked online for free and then order, of course), but its not clear that in every case that is true. Especially, in my mind, the example of Entertainment Weekly.

#10 Stephen Beals
October/26/2009
@ 1:37 pm

Ok, I could’ve renewed EW, but I didn’t because I’m trying to save more money these days. Besides, EW is light reading and I’m already getting that online. It’s not much of a sacrifice.

The company I work for produces ads for car dealerships in several states (I never thought I’d go from animation to automobile advertising, but there you go). The owners have pulled all newspaper advertising and have focused completely on the Internet (cars.com, autotrader, etc.) Clearly, we want people who can afford a new car to read our ads, but as one owner said “Only people my age read the newspaper anymore” (he’s 60).

There are still a few dealerships putting ads in the paper, but most are placing ads less and less. Considering that car ads are a staple of newspaper ad revenue, that becomes a real problem. We’re not dropping over $500,000 a year for one medium-sized market anymore.

Now that may be changing. We have placed two ads this month and are trying to track the amount of people they bring in versus the same ads online. We’ve done that before, but maybe things will be different this time.

I’ve asked around and I haven’t found somebody in their 20s who prefers reading an article in the newspaper to online. I know, that’s not scientific and it doesn’t mean much, but it’s an interesting question to ask people. Reading habits have already changed so much. The 60 year old I referenced above was making fun of text messaging last year and now it seems like he and his wife are constantly texting each other.

Anyway, I wish Newsday all the best and I hope people as passionate as us own newspapers. Judging from the newspaper sales reps that I speak to, I have this dreaded feeling that there is a sort of clueless “GM CEO” type running many newspapers and they’re going to steer things into the ground.

#11 Stephen Beals
October/26/2009
@ 1:47 pm

Rats. I wrote the above and then realized that I never asked my wife, “Do you prefer to read articles printed in a newspaper or online?” She prefers a newspaper.

She’s 33. (Looks like she’s still in her 20s … honest. No, she won’t read this. Prefers newspaper).

#12 Robert George
October/26/2009
@ 2:01 pm

“Iâ??ve asked around and I havenâ??t found somebody in their 20s who prefers reading an article in the newspaper to online. I know, thatâ??s not scientific and it doesnâ??t mean much, but itâ??s an interesting question to ask people. Reading habits have already changed so much. The 60 year old I referenced above was making fun of text messaging last year and now it seems like he and his wife are constantly texting each other.” I am 26 and prefer magazines to online but not newspapers. Newspapers ink get everywhere, most of the stories are so short they are fine to read online, they are too big and loose…. Magazines, and the long form journalism they contain, really benefit from being in real life. Newspapers kinda annoy me as a product. Maybe reformatting would make a difference?

As to the EW bit, it’s really just a question of whether or not you would order could you not read online.

#13 Stephen Beals
October/26/2009
@ 3:05 pm

In the good ol’ days you could read nice, long investigative stories in the newspapers (perhaps as a part of a series running the entire week) that went far beyond what you would get from 60 Minutes. Now, it seems like “investigative” journalism involves picking up a phone or sending an email and reporting what the person on the other end said, perhaps without making a typo. What I’m getting from most people is that until newspapers realize that they need to have local investigative stories instead of a lame repeat of what we read online the day before there’s no reason to pay for them. As Michael Connelly wrote, they should be called “The Morning Afterthought”.

#14 Stephen Beals
October/26/2009
@ 3:08 pm

And, yeah, I would have to reconsider EW if it wasn’t free.

#15 Tom Wood
October/27/2009
@ 5:55 am

Now that Google will include Twitter feeds in their search results, we can get real-time reporting as it happens from citizen journalists. No more waiting for someone to write about it in a newspaper, so they are all doomed anyway. We don’t even need real journalists any more. Once they are gone, we won’t miss archaic concepts like forethought, analysis, and composition.

Srsly.

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