After three months of being a paywalled site, the New York newspaper Newsday has revealed that they’ve sold a whopping 35 website subscriptions. Watch out.
The paper, which offers only excerpts of their stories to non-subscribers, requires a $5 weekly fee to read complete stories. For comparison, the paper’s hard copy circulation in 2009 was approximately 350,000 copies daily.
The paywalled site’s lack of success came as a massive shock to Newsday staff when the figures were announced in a newsroom meeting last week. The figures are especially painful given that the paper’s new owners recently spent over $4 million on a site redesign and relaunch. The 35 subscribers have netted the paper no more than $3000. Amazingly, the paper’s editor in chief, Terry Jimenez, said, “That’s 35 more than I would have thought it would have been.”
It is worth noting that the online edition of the paper is free to hard copy subscribers and anyone who receives Optimum Cable, a company also owned by the paper’s new owners. According to Newsday representatives, over 75% of Long Island residents meet one of the two criteria.
Jimenez also argued that the site was not intended as a revenue earner, but as a service for loyal subscribers. Even so, traffic has fallen off sharply since the paywall was introduced. According to Nielsen Online, the site received 2.2 million unique hits in October 2009, the last month before the paywall went up. November’s traffic dropped to 1.7 million hits and December’s traffic slid even further to 1.5 million hits, an approximately 30% drop in traffic in two months.
If they weren’t paying attention to the naysayers before, the New York Times will be paying attention now. While the New York Times has a much broader reader base and (no offense, Newsday) better content, readers will likely strongly object to the paywall system. It is quite important to note that the Times’ paywall structure is different than Newsday’s. The New York Times site will allow readers to browse a certain number of articles for free before being prompted to pay for content. However, the traffic drop from the Newsday site will certainly cause concern for the proponent’s of the Times’ paywall plan, and will hopefully make them reconsider their decision.