Get ready to pay for Newsday

October 22, 2009

Newspapers often resemble a melting iceberg full of milling penguins when they talk about whether and how to make people pay for their news online. Newsday, the former Tribune-owned daily paper that serves New York’s Long Island, has left the iceberg. Here is the paper, in its own words:

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’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.

We’re talking $260 a year, if you count that at $5 per week. Some people pay less for The Wall Street Journal, I’m told. In the spirit of offering both sides of the argument, Newsday got a naysayer and a supporter. We’d write this ourselves, but Newsday did such a good job of it that we’ll share that with you too:

Jack Myers of Jack Myers Media Business Report, a Manhattan-based economic research firm, said, “In the long term, it’s a zero-sum game. Basically what you are doing is you are shutting off younger audiences from getting access and becoming fans of your content, so it strikes me as a pretty short-term protective measure that will be a great case study for the industry.”

However, John Morton, head of the Morton Research Inc., a Silver Spring, Md.-based media consulting firm, said the current model of free online content is not a “rational model.”

Most U.S. newspapers have not done well at charging for any of their news. The New York Times didn’t do so well with its TimesSelect program. Other papers, like The Wall Street Journal which has done it from the beginning, have. Still a few others, like the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, are sticking with it one way or another. And yet others may start charging soon. The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, might begin this year, their chief executive has said.

What’s at stake? Advertising is down, but not out, and it tends to perform well online because businesses know they can reach large numbers of people who read the news for free. If those people decide they don’t want to pay for news, they’ll leave their favorite news websites for another. That is the main reason that publishers have been hesitant to start charging.

I’ve yet to meet people who are shy about sharing their opinions about paying for news on the Internet. So have at it!

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