I wrote a blog last week that detailed The New York Times strategy to start charging its subscribers to read NYTimes.com stories. In that post, I mentioned that many other newspapers would be watching to see what type of success The Times has doing this, as it could show whether online readers would be willing to pay for something that they were used to getting for free.
In October 2009, Newsday - a Long Island daily newspaper that has a top-12 national circulation - put Newsday.com behind a pay wall. According to The New York Observer, the number of subscribers to Newsday.com after three months is remarkably low.
So, three months later, how many people have signed up to pay $5 a week, or $260 a year, to get unfettered access to newsday.com?
The answer: 35 people. As in fewer than three dozen. As in a decent-sized elementary-school class.
That astoundingly low figure was revealed in a newsroom-wide meeting last week 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.
According to the story, web traffic to Newsday.com has seen a sizable hit. In October, Newsday.com got 2.2 million unique visits. In December, just 1.5 million. Page visits normally equal advertising dollars, so the switch to a pay model may ultimately do much more harm to the bottom line than good.
What this means for The New York Times isn’t yet clear. The Times is much more of a national newspaper, so it’s possible that its far-reaching audience will be more willing to pay for the paper’s content. And not to take anything away from Newsday, but The Times is known for having some of the best reporting and stories of any newspaper in the country.
Still, I would have to think that The Times is paying very close attention to what ramifications Newsday will see from forcing online readers to pay.
I ended my New York Times post by asking how much true journalism was really worth.
Apparently not that much.