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Pay Wall Fail
January 26, 2010 1:04 PM   Subscribe

In late October, New York Newsday put their website content behind a pay wall. How many subscribers signed up since then? 35.

However,

Anyone who has a newspaper subscription is allowed free access; anyone who has Optimum Cable, which is owned by the Dolans and Cablevision, also gets it free. Newsday representatives claim that 75 percent of Long Island either has a subscription or Optimum Cable.
posted by reenum (65 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Putting the "wall" in paywall since 2008.
posted by GuyZero at 1:06 PM on January 26, 2010


Ouch.
posted by brundlefly at 1:06 PM on January 26, 2010


Unless Newsday has improved a lot from the mid-70s, you're not missing anything.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:07 PM on January 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


Unless Newsday has improved a lot from the mid-70s, you're not missing anything.

Heckscuse me, Murray Kempton wrote for Newsday in the 1980s-90s. (not that it didnt suck outside of that).
posted by shothotbot at 1:11 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sounds like most long-tail content ventures' paying membership base.

It's too bad they don't conclusively state the rebilling frequency (price is equivalent to $5 / week, but is it billed weakly / monthly / etc.?) or the apparent trend in uptake.
posted by hoople at 1:12 PM on January 26, 2010


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

Back in high school, a few of the history teachers would make mandatory the purchase of a year-long subscription to the New York Times. I'm entirely sure that those 35 people are Mr. Wilkins' fourth period social studies class.
posted by griphus at 1:12 PM on January 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


Who would pay $5 a week for something you can't even use to wrap fish?

Their home delivery site starts at $2.25 / week for 20 weeks, and then goes up to $4.25.

The online version (with NO delivery costs) is MORE expensive.

Not a shocking result.
posted by jenkinsEar at 1:13 PM on January 26, 2010 [12 favorites]


That's seriously bad. I wonder if anyone is avoiding switching to Verizon or Uverse to keep this access? Maybe another 35 folks?

Not that anyone's going to go out of their way to subscribe, but I'd expect you could write a couple vanity articles about someone in California and get them to subscribe for a week.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 1:13 PM on January 26, 2010


shothotbot: "Heckscuse me, Murray Kempton wrote for Newsday in the 1980s-90s. (not that it didnt suck outside of that)."

"Wrote for" or "Was syndicated in"?

They get points either way, I suppose. But more in the first case than in the second.
posted by Joe Beese at 1:13 PM on January 26, 2010


Are you paying attention, New York Times?
posted by aught at 1:17 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Insert Nelson HA-HA
posted by Juicy Avenger at 1:19 PM on January 26, 2010 [4 favorites]


35 people. As in fewer than three dozen.

Yes, but they're each paying $10,000 per week, so it's a big moneymaker.
posted by msalt at 1:20 PM on January 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


The online version (with NO delivery costs) is MORE expensive.

No printing costs, either. I've noticed that this is true with Cook's Illustrated as well. It's kind of mind boggling. Digital music and (to a lesser extent) movies are taking off because they're cheaper than the physical (semi-)equivalents. Print media companies are going to have to offer the same kind of incentives.
posted by jedicus at 1:21 PM on January 26, 2010


Oh well, I got beat to the punch about how bad newsday is. still:

Snoozeday.
posted by shmegegge at 1:21 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Their home delivery site starts at $2.25 / week for 20 weeks, and then goes up to $4.25.

And comes with free access to the web site.

Which costs five bucks on its own.

Nice pricing structure, guys.
posted by Nothing... and like it at 1:21 PM on January 26, 2010 [13 favorites]


aught: "Are you paying attention, New York Times?"

Yes, but the Times has Maureen Dowd. *
posted by Joe Beese at 1:22 PM on January 26, 2010


News is cheap. I can get that same shit free of charge from the lady on the porch down the street and it comes with a popsicle. It's the eyeballs that oughta be expensive, and advertisers that oughta be paying for them.
posted by carsonb at 1:24 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


35 subscribers.... but...

Anyone who has a newspaper subscription is allowed free access; anyone who has Optimum Cable, which is owned by the Dolans and Cablevision, also gets it free. Newsday representatives claim that 75 percent of Long Island either has a subscription or Optimum Cable.

and that's a proverbial "big old but". Who knows how many are accessing with those legal back doors? Without knowing, there's not really much of a story here.
posted by crapmatic at 1:25 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've noticed that this is true with Cook's Illustrated as well.

With Cook's I'm willing to pay it to get fingertip access to basically their entire archives. I even sold some of my old hard-copy "annuals" on eBay to help recoup the costs.

Newsday, not so much.
posted by anastasiav at 1:26 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


shothotbot: "Heckscuse me, Murray Kempton wrote for Newsday in the 1980s-90s. (not that it didnt suck outside of that)."

"Wrote for" or "Was syndicated in"?


wrote for.
posted by JPD at 1:29 PM on January 26, 2010


To add to the "big old but", who knows how many of the cable subscribers would pay the $5/week if they had to?
posted by tommasz at 1:32 PM on January 26, 2010


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.

He argued that the web was not intended to be a revenue generator, but rather to provide extra benefit to loyal subscribers.


WHERE THE FUCK CAN I GET A JOB LIKE THIS? I mean, seriously. I want to fail upward. Sign my ass up. How many pints of blood do you want for this deal?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 1:32 PM on January 26, 2010 [8 favorites]


I wonder: how many of the 35 had access to it already (either through paper subscription or optimum account) and simply didn't know it?
posted by shmegegge at 1:35 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


cause I'd be willing to bet it's a non zero number, and even 1 out of 35 is an interesting adjustment to the stat.
posted by shmegegge at 1:35 PM on January 26, 2010


I've noticed that this is true with Cook's Illustrated as well.

Also, I'm not sure if Cook's Illustrated gives you website access just because you are a print subscriber.
posted by smackfu at 1:38 PM on January 26, 2010


I'll bet that all of those 35 subscriptions are local politicians and union leaders who want to see what Newsday says about them during the day.
posted by zippy at 1:42 PM on January 26, 2010


The real question is how many paying subscribers would they have if you don't count the amount of subscribers that are out of state parents to one of the writers.
posted by any major dude at 1:43 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


If only the NYT would put Tom Friedman's column behind a pay wall. Actually, they could probably get more than 35 people to pay to put up a pay wall on his rubbish.
posted by grounded at 1:44 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, I'm not sure if Cook's Illustrated gives you website access just because you are a print subscriber.

They don't.
posted by mudpuppie at 1:45 PM on January 26, 2010


Not only doesn't Cook's give Web access to print subscribers, but you have to subscribe separately to the Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country Web sites, which each have different recipes and reviews.
posted by nicwolff at 1:50 PM on January 26, 2010


Alas, we all want freebies but it will all change, like it or not. I don not read the paper noted here. But I do subscribe to the cable company and could get it free. I suspect most of those on Long Island want that paper or subscribe to cable, based out there, and thus the 35 does not suggest how few folks interested in the paper.

The NY Times. They will have a similar setup. Many of us get hard copy and thus would also get online free, or might subscribe to online for a fee. Those that want it free, Sorry but try your library.

Old zen saying: you like something, get it; you dislike what you must do to get it, don't get it. You decide.
posted by Postroad at 1:59 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


So it turns out it's hard to sell rubbish that you're also giving away for free to 75% of your potential customers?

Well, shit, tear up them business books, ma.
posted by bonaldi at 2:07 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Juicy Avenger: "11Insert Nelson HA-HA"

ITYM "Instant Nelson HA-HA" (sound).
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 2:13 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Last month I made more money than Newsday's website.
posted by incessant at 2:17 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


The online version (with NO delivery costs) is MORE expensive.

As someone not at all savvy about the print industry, is it that much cheaper to deliver content through a Web site? IT professionals, programmers, and designers don't come cheap, and you have to have high bandwidth connections, build, upgrade, and maintain server racks, rent a hosting facility, consume the electricity, register the URL, etc? Compared to a printing press and a bunch of kids on bikes, it seems like digital delivery costs could potentially be higher.

Or is it that the extra delivery costs per new digital subscriber are negligible compared to the extra delivery costs per new print subscriber?
posted by TimeTravelSpeed at 2:40 PM on January 26, 2010


I used to read read newsday.com 2 times a day or so to get some news from where I grew up. They recently did a redesign before putting the paywall up which made it one of the worst commercial web sites in 2010. You can't open tabs in the background, it uses a huge amount of space to display very little data (it's like you are reading Readers Digest Big Type edition) and it just seems like they went back to 1999 to hire some designers.

I sent them a note after the redesign explaining why I wasn't visiting as much as I used to (never heard back)

Now I look once every few weeks, if that. Sad.

I sure this redesign cost a ton of cash and ends up working worse than if they just had a listing of each headline on a single page.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 2:43 PM on January 26, 2010


Are you paying attention, New York Times?

You really think the publishers of the Times will draw any conclusions from the experiences of a paper most of them wouldn't use to wipe dogshit off the sidewalk with?

Don't get me wrong. I wish they would look at this example, quake in their boots and put aside all of their paywall plans.

In the real world, though, that ain't gonna happen.
posted by jason's_planet at 2:49 PM on January 26, 2010


You really think the publishers of the Times will draw any conclusions from the experiences of a paper most of them wouldn't use to wipe dogshit off the sidewalk with?

Given that they really think they've learned the lessons of the failure of TimesSelect, I'm betting they'll just keep pounding their heads against that paywall still another time.
posted by dw at 2:58 PM on January 26, 2010


TimeTravelSpeed—yes, yes it is that much cheaper. A 10k copy run of a simple letter-sized trifold brochure runs about $1.1k... and that's with people bidding against each other to get it. The same information and design on a web site could fit into less than 300kb and be delivered to 10k people without even impacting a bandwidth graph.
posted by sonic meat machine at 2:58 PM on January 26, 2010


As someone not at all savvy about the print industry, is it that much cheaper to deliver content through a Web site? IT professionals, programmers, and designers don't come cheap, and you have to have high bandwidth connections, build, upgrade, and maintain server racks, rent a hosting facility, consume the electricity, register the URL, etc? Compared to a printing press and a bunch of kids on bikes, it seems like digital delivery costs could potentially be higher.

I'm pretty sure that in terms of infrastructure costs, physical delivery is far more expensive.
I figure a newpaper printing press is somewhere around 2 million bucks, at least for a press able to handle newsday's circulation. A fleet of 50 delivery trucks would probably run another mill or so. Consumables (ink, paper, gasoline) has to be north of 50K / day.

Coders are (relatively) cheap these days, and newsday's site would be done using a commercial CMS- figure 150K for software licenses if they don't go open source. The developers and designers might run you 500K - 750K to customize the site and another 100 - 200K to import the old articles. A 42u server cabinet in NYC costs around $1,500 / month these days; Electricity and bandwidth costs are pretty much negligible, maybe another $5K / month if they get a few tens of thousands of subscribers. If they build it right, they'll set it up on something like 4 servers and grow over time. 1U servers can be had for 4K apiece. Drop in an admin or 3 to run it, and you've got an additional 30K / month for salaries.


My back of the envelope costs says around 3 million bucks plus 50K / day for the physical version, and something like 1.5 million for an (expensive!) online version, with monthly costs around 50K.
posted by jenkinsEar at 2:58 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Heh. I'm in the UK but used to read Newsday for Knicks news via RSS. One day the feed went dead and...I read the other 6 feeds from better sources. It actually helped thin the herd so yay for paywalls.
posted by i_cola at 3:11 PM on January 26, 2010


up against the paywall, motherfucker!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:22 PM on January 26, 2010


Not only doesn't Cook's give Web access to print subscribers, but you have to subscribe separately to the Cook's Illustrated and Cook's Country Web sites, which each have different recipes and reviews.

Please note that Cook's Illustrated, Cook's Country, and the associated TV shows are not supported by advertising, and as such rely pretty much entirely on subscribers to their various products to fund their ventures. It's one of the few models where you money is actually going directly to support what you receive.
posted by hippybear at 3:29 PM on January 26, 2010


It's one of the few models where you money is actually going directly to support what you receive.

For me, it proves that non-ad-supported subscription content is too pricey for my blood. (I just buy the books.)
posted by smackfu at 3:43 PM on January 26, 2010


Please note that Cook's Illustrated, Cook's Country, and the associated TV shows are not supported by advertising

Not the America's Test Kitchen show -- it has ads, or featured sponsorships that play before the content. Viva brand paper towels, Mondavi wines, Kohler. They call them "underwriters" on the Web site info, but it's clearly an ad-based sponsorship.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:57 PM on January 26, 2010


From the America's Test Kitchen site:
FTC rules prohibit Cook’s Illustrated from underwriting, or in any way funding, the filming, editing, and distribution of a public television series based on the concepts of Cook’s Illustrated. Therefore, the only way that America’s Test Kitchen can be produced is through the support of public television underwriters who are willing to cover these costs.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:59 PM on January 26, 2010


Wrote for" or "Was syndicated in"?

They get points either way, I suppose. But more in the first case than in the second.
posted by Joe Beese at 4:13 PM on January 26 [+] [!]


Murray was a Newsday employee for many years, not just a syndicated package. Newsday actually was pretty good years ago: it spent money on coverage, sent people around the world, got results, won prizes. What has happened to it since the late 1990s is a shame, mostly the result of absolutely dreadful leadership, people who took their money and ran after selling the paper to others: once to Tribune, which itself was taken over by Sam Zell and then to Cablevision. Union members voted to reject a contract this weekend only after James Hoffa Jr. stepped in to oppose it; Calevision demanded:
- Changes in language governing seniority and buyout provisions appeared to make it easier for Newsday to cut jobs – not preserve them, as a Newsday spokeswoman suggested.
* It lowered salaries by 10 percent to 15 percent.
* It lengthened the work week from 35 to 40 hours with no additional pay.
* It reduced paid vacation time by up to one week.
* It cut by 20 percent the mileage reimbursement for driving to assignments.

These, along with numerous other items, added up to nearly a 25-percent cut in the hourly wage for some employees.

The people running the place are lying bastards. It is a shame.
posted by etaoin at 4:12 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Doomed! Dooooooooomed!
posted by sexyrobot at 4:24 PM on January 26, 2010


This thread has more paid commenters than Newsday has paid digital subscribers. Matt Haughey, you win the new media game!
posted by Frank Grimes at 4:30 PM on January 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


The real learning out of this is that Cablevision despairs of ever generating real ad revenue online from Newsday. In the short-term, newspapers make most of their revenue from print ads. The point of pricing a paywall higher than a print subscription which throws in online access is to force people to renew (or, less likely, initiate) print subscriptions, and add themselves to the paid circulation count they sell in their print ad rate base.
posted by MattD at 4:40 PM on January 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Matt Haughey, you win the new media game

Yeah, but can he give us the Nassau County weekend weather outlook?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:40 PM on January 26, 2010


I don't know why I'm bothering, but just for the record: Newsday was a damn good paper for a while. In the '90s they won a bunch of Pulitzers; besides Kempton, they had Laurie Garrett, Jim Dwyer, and other fine columnists and writers. Their NYC edition was real competition for the News until they stupidly shut it down.

Now back to your regularly scheduled hatefest...
posted by languagehat at 4:54 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


> Nice pricing structure, guys.

I doubt the online edition is meant to sell itself; rather, the price is a decoy.

"Subscribe to our (cheap) physical paper, and you can get access to the website-- which would otherwise cost you five bucks every week-- for free. By just subscribing now, you're saving five bucks every single week!"
posted by darth_tedious at 5:22 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


> Who would pay $5 a week for something you can't even use to wrap fish?

Hey, my dog still poops in the house. DO YOU WANT HER TO POOP ON MY LAPTOP!?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:38 PM on January 26, 2010


Is Newsday's site where Heidi Montag bought advertising for Superficial?
posted by reductiondesign at 6:54 PM on January 26, 2010


Imagine how dumb you must feel now if you're one of the 35
posted by empath at 7:10 PM on January 26, 2010


This thread has more paid commenters than Newsday has paid digital subscribers. Matt Haughey, you win the new media game!

...actually, I think MeFi provides a number of things to the online reader that old news organizations don't yet get. So, yeah, I do think the successful online news operation has some tricks to learn from Matt. Sensibly moderated discussion, for starters.
posted by Artful Codger at 7:33 PM on January 26, 2010


goodnewsfortheinsane, how did I ever live my life before you??
posted by Juicy Avenger at 8:08 PM on January 26, 2010


Darth Tedious has it: this paper is forever and irrevocably regional in appeal. They aren't doing much with their website, and I guarantee you ad revenue from it is a trickle. This paper is making its money from dead trees, and they're not losing anything by presenting web access as a subscriber premium.

Consumables (ink, paper, gasoline) has to be north of 50K / day.


I think that's a way, way overinflated figure for a paper like Newsday. And the presses are already up and running, so that doesn't represent a cash investment in the way that building a new website does.

I still think people who chortle at the idea of a paper like the Times not surviving paywall still have an inflated idea of the worth of free web-user access as a revenue stream.

Sat in a marketing meeting today at my job, discussing ways of applying our event marketing budget to our various regional media-outlet options. We're doing a banner a week on the Boston Globe's site, page of our choice, for something like $500 a year.

Meanwhile, we also did a single-fold, full-color insert in the Sunday New York Times on one single Sunday last fall. Metro Boston region only. One insert, one day, among the large colorful pile. We paid $30,000.
posted by Miko at 8:47 PM on January 26, 2010


When I was growing up, we had at least four daily newspapers coming into the house. If the Times was discussed, it was in terms of content. When referring to The New York Post, it was fairly mandatory to refer to it as "The Post, that rag." The Daily News got the "that rag" suffix about seventy percent of the time. Newsday was where you went to read about Long Island serial killers when you happened to be eating lunch by yourself. It was "meh" but it was local "meh."
posted by Morrigan at 8:56 PM on January 26, 2010


If your aim is to keep the print version afloat, and indeed to make it look like a good deal, then pricing print subscriptions with free web access below the cost of web access alone makes sense. You turn some or maybe even most of the freeloading locals who had stopped buying the physical paper back into print subscribers, and turn away all the non-local traffic that was clogging up your web-server. For a local-oriented paper like this you wouldn't expect to get many subscribers from the other side of the country or the world anyway, but perhaps there are a few expats who would like access - well, you're still offering them the option.

If your aim was to turn your print newspaper into an online-only newspaper, you'd follow a completely different strategy.

Whether it works will depend how much competition they face in the local news market, but that's a completely different calculation to those the New York Times and other major papers have to make.
posted by rory at 4:31 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Might one reason for the apparent need to keep the print version going (apart from sentimentality or not-getting-the-internent) be a desire to keep circulation numbers high as a specific business priority?

Back when we subscribed to newspapers, some of our subscriptions were part-time (weekends, weekends plus Wednesdays, something like that) and we'd get bonus issues frequently, more than I'd expect from chance. I always assumed that they encouraged their drivers to get rid of all their papers to ensure high circulation.
posted by Rat Spatula at 5:33 AM on January 27, 2010


You turn some or maybe even most of the freeloading locals who had stopped buying the physical paper back into print subscribers, and turn away all the non-local traffic that was clogging up your web-server.

Also, since every reader has an account with demographic details (like address), you can get pretty good metrics for advertisers. They can probably more easily sell local ads than a lot of sites.
posted by smackfu at 6:02 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


To expand on what smackfu says, since they're also the ISP they could (although I doubt they've actually done the work) provide their online advertisers info about viewers down to street address, phone number, email address, amount of time spent on this or other sites... Do you have to authorize a credit check or give SSN to sign up for cablevision?

"Show this ad to high-bandwidth daytime internet users in Port Jefferson who have been delinquent at least twice."

"Show this ad to anyone in the Hamptons who has 2 or more premium channels."

Etc.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 9:20 AM on January 27, 2010


Might one reason for the apparent need to keep the print version going (apart from sentimentality or not-getting-the-internent) be a desire to keep circulation numbers high as a specific business priority?

The reason to keep the print version going is that print newspapers make way more money than online newspapers. This is something that people seem to have a really hard time grasping. Print ads are much more valuable than online ads. Newspapers survive on the ad revenue they take in - not on subscriber fees. The subscriber and per issue fees exist to communicate value, place a reasonable limit on production while guaranteeing access, and provide some offset to the distribution costs, such as payroll for delivery people and fuel.

Print newspapers aren't struggling because they don't make money. They do make money, much more money than their online versions. They work by providing content readers want, and then selling access to those targeted, interested readers, with their detailed geotagged and demographic descriptors, to advertisers who have identified those readers as a target market. It works fine, as long as people want to read the content. The problem we're having now is that people have vastly more content to read. They don't necessarily have to pick up a paper to read the news of the day - they can find a lot of it online, along with all kinds of other wonderfully distracting stuff to read, like, say MeFi. A lot of papers were convinced to go online for free, as this was so clearly the wave of the future, or so they were told by smart, savvy consultants. So they've gone online for free - hoping the ad revenue would materialize to support the expensive process of newsgathering and news reporting - only to discover that web advertising space is worth a lot less than print advertising space. It just can't command the dollar level that print does, because there are absolutely no limits on how much content can be popped online, and because demographics - especially household spending power - are so difficult to track for websites which can be accessed casually, erratically, and relatively anonymously.

Papers are struggling because it's not users who pay for the news; it never has been. It's advertising which has paid. In the newspaper industry, what is considered a failure is the promise of the web as an ad revenue generator, the failure of an advertising-supported model for web distribution. Those who believed that the internet is an unmitigated boon for humanity, and encouraged newspapers to move content online before online sources developed any indication that they could support something as expensive as news, have failed the world's citizens and put the news reporting sector into serious straits.
posted by Miko at 2:13 PM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


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