When the Internet began to gain traction, long-established newspapers wondered how to make money using it.
A number of them charged for access to articles. This proved pretty much a bust. As far as I'm aware, only The Wall Street Journal has made any money this way. The New York Times failed rather miserably at charging for reading its columnists and gave up a few years ago. (It plans to start charging for access after a certain number of page views next year. Really, NYT? The barn door is open, and the free-news horse is long gone.)
Several months ago, Long Island's Newsday--owned by Cablevision, which, in case you haven't heard, sucks--spent a reported $4 million to revamp its Web site in preparation for a return to the old for-pay model, charging $5 a week for it. Now, granted, access to the site is free if you subscribe to the physical paper, or get Cablevision's TV services. But, seriously, you don't spend $4 million without expecting something in return, right?
According to this NY Observer story I ran across today, Newsday has been able to sign up a grand total of 35 people to subscribe to the Web site as of January, after the firewall had been up for three months. That's not a typo. Thirty five:
That astoundingly low figure was revealed in a newsroom-wide meeting [in January] 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.
Oh, but they meant to do that:
Mr. Jimenez was in no mood to apologize. "That's 35 more than I would have thought it would have been," said Mr. Jimenez to the assembled staff, according to five interviews with Newsday staffers.
The decision also resulted in significantly less traffic, too:
In December, the web site had 1.5 million unique visits, a drop from 2.2 million in October, according to Nielsen Media Online.
But, at least, you get what you pay for:
"The view of the newsroom is the web site sucks," said one staffer.
"It's an abomination," said another.
Yes, when the Internet began, people wondered how to make money with it. And they're still wondering.