Newsday Paywall Stats Not Promising

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newspaper_small.jpgADOTAS – As opinions are still forming about the prospects for The New York Times’ recently announced pay meter for its online content, the initial stats from Newsday’s paywall experiment are likely to make pay-for-content advocate’s faces go sour.

Since announcing in October that visitors — beside print subscribers and Cablevision customers, the company that bought Newsday in 2008 — to Newsday.com would be charged $5 per week or $260 per year (no discount, apparently), the site has had 35 takers.

According to Compete.com, from September till the end of the 2009, Newsday.com’s unique visitors nearly halved, falling barely above 1 million after boasting 3.5 million in May.

The really devastating piece is that Newsday.com is a local site, offering breaking news to Long Islanders. Paid-for-content advocates have suggested that regional news sites could survive using a subscription model.

It’s hard to forgo speculation on what this means for The New York Times forthcoming pay meter. However, unlike Newsday’s subscription plan, online users at NYTimes.com will get to view a limited number of articles per month before being asked to pay up.

A couple of days ago I put up a poll asking for reader opinions on the pay meter and the majority replied that it may work for the Old Gray Lady, but it’s not an industry-wide solution. However, about a quarter still think it will be a bust.

The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal are journalism institutions, with the former arguably considered the best newspaper (or source for liberal bias, according to some) in the U.S. WSJ.com’s subscription program has worked like a charm, especially since the subscription can be written off as a business expense.

NYTimes.com’s old subscription plan, in which certain sections of the site such as opinion were subscriber-only, was half-baked, to describe it generously. However, the pay meter has potential simply because it’s The New York Times, and that name still holds weight (despite a slew of questionable reporting over the last decade).

However, if Newsday’s paywall fortunes don’t turn around, the prospects for subscription models at regional news sites will grow a lot dimmer. And if the readers don’t show up, the advertisers are likely to abdicate.

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