No one spins shocking news like people who think news sites need to charge for content.
If only 35 people decide to pay for the content you thought was worth $260 a year? No problem. Just say, “That’s 35 more than I would have thought it would have been.” That’s what Staci Kramer of paidContent.org reports that Newsday publisher Terry Jimenez said after the embarrassing number came out during a staff meeting.
Newsday erected its paywall around newsday.com starting Nov. 1 (during the World Series; think Yankee fans were able to find their baseball news elsewhere?).
The New York Observer had a different take:
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.
Kramer notes correctly that Newsday’s situation is unique among planned paywalls. Like most newspaper companies probably will if they try paywalls, Newsday provides free access to the web site to print subscribers. However, Newsday also is owned by Cablevision, and Optimum Online subscribers also get free access to the web site. So it’s not as if only 35 people are reading the site that Newsday spent $4 million redesigning and relaunching. Kramer reports:
Newsday also provided some stats, saying that the comScore numbers have increased monthly since November, with local uniques at 607,000 in December. That’s compared to 649,000 in April and 672,000 in May.
Fine, let’s examine those Newsday numbers. A better comparison would be December of 2008. But for a pre-paywall level, let’s split the difference between the April and May numbers: 660,500. So we’ll say that about 53,500 local users who formerly had access for free are not getting access through Newsday or Cablevision. That means less than one-tenth of 1 percent of people confronting the paywall actually decided to pay. Certainly Newsday is a unique situation and the people who aren’t print or Cablevision subscribers might be less inclined than the general audience somewhere else to subscribe online. Hedge it anyway you want, but that is a breathtaking response.
I would suggest that Long Island might be a great place for the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism to study the news ecosystem (and really study bloggers and niche sites this time). I’d like to know where these former newsday.com visitors are going, whether the traffic Newsday is turning away is creating opportunities for local bloggers and niche sites and how they are responding to those opportunities.
Newsday emailed this statement to Kramer:
“Millions of Cablevision customers in the New York tri-state area and 75 percent of Long Island households, including all Newsday home delivery subscribers, now have exclusive access to newsday.com at no additional charge. Internal research shows that Newsday‘s web site is an extremely popular new benefit to hundreds of thousands of Long Island Cablevision households. Given the number of households in our market that have access to Newsday‘s web site as a result of other subscriptions, it is no surprise that a relatively modest number have chosen the pay option.”
And here’s my question: Is Cablevision service in the New York tri-state area so poor that it feels like a bonus to get “exclusive access” to a web site that used to be free?