Monday, March 08, 2010

Forward, into the past

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.


ChefNick said...

I would never pay to read a newspaper online. Besides, they're always so studded with dancing monkeys and distracting popups -- who would pay for that? I'll watch the evening news, thank you very much.

I WOULD pay a monthly fee for, perhaps a recipe database such as Cook's Illustrated. I have most of the magazines/books but going to them and looking up the recipe is a drag. It's so easy online.

I'm not going to be wanting to reread and print out the old story of some Liberian dictator from a 3-year-old issue of the New York Times . . . well, any Times soon.

Jim Donahue said...

I think I read what's bubbling up on Google News more than anything else.

ChefNick said...

Hmm, I usually do CNN although they seem to be getting more and more tabloid-style each year. said...

I would never pay to read a newspaper online, but then again I once said I would never pay 100 bucks a month for television. "Pay for television? Television's free!" I said.

Jim Donahue said...

God: Remember this?

It used to run before features at the Riverhead theater when I was a kid. said...

I read an article saying that in the last 30 years, the percentage of their incomes Americans are spending on basics has increased tremendously. One of the big reasons is that we're paying so much for TV and phone.

Talley Sue said...

Considering that that's nothing of any value on the newspaper websites--nothing indepth, all kinds of repetition, LOTS of "blah-de-blah" transition text--there's nothing worth money.

My husband pays for the Economist. But there's something of SUBSTANCE there.

When I feel that all I'm getting from the newspaper is hot air, and no actualy info, why should I pay anything? At that point, it's sort of entertainment, mental masturbation--and I can get that from anywhere.