First, the New York Times failed with Times Select. Now, the same fate has befallen Newsday’s pay wall:
In late October, Newsday, the Long Island daily that the Dolans bought for $650 million, put its web site, newsday.com, behind a pay wall. The paper was one of the first non-business newspapers to take the plunge by putting up a pay wall, so in media circles it has been followed with interest. Could its fate be a sign of what others, including The New York Times, might expect?
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.
Times Select had readers pay $50 a year to read the newspaper’s columnists as well as have access to the full, historical archives and other premium material. After drawing 221,000 subscribers, the newspaper pulled the initiative because advertising revenue declined. Newsday took it one step further and charged for all website access (except for print subscribers). Both did not succeed. Still, both the Times and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation are going to put their entire websites behind a pay wall soon. The Times will allow a certain number of articles to be viewed each month before asking for payment; Murdoch’s specific plans are still unclear.
What does this mean for online marketers? Well, first, you need to understand several points:
- An interest in a print or television medium (free or paid) does not guarantee that the curiosity will carry over to a website (free or paid). The publication or channel needs to provide teasers (more on this investigative story online!) and incentives (register online and get a month’s subscription for free!) to draw people to a website. Most news outlets already do this with varying degrees of success/
- People will not pay for website access when they already pay for a print publication — this much is obvious, and it is the reason why sites like Newsday do not charge current subscribers. However, this begs another question: Will Fox News viewers, for example, pay for Fox News online when the cable channel is free?
- Those (relatively fewer people) who will pay for their news, particularly during a deep recession, will more likely be people with higher levels of disposable income — or, in other words, the people whom marketers want to reach.
- So-called “interchangeable news” — wire reports, major stories, and general-interest articles — that vary little from one media outlet to the next will slowly disappear. If a person, for example, will need to pay to read an article about President Obama’s State of the Union Address in the Times, he will likely choose to read it in another publication — like the Boston Globe — for free. (And countless sites will simply offer the text for people to read.) In an Internet-driven, consumerist, individualized world, the market is become segmented to an almost infinite degree. The news websites that will be successful with a pay-wall strategy will be those that cater to niche audiences and provide articles for them that no other site will have.
- No one knows yet how — or whether — pay walls will affect Google News.
Many business publications like the Wall Street Journal as well as specialty trade publications — as opposed to general-interest ones like the Times — have already erected pay walls. Moreover, online media like blogs and social-media websites can still link to and share articles with friends and business contacts for free — meaning that your marketing pitches will still reach your targeted audiences online regardless. (Think about this: People will rather read a blog post about an article for free rather than pay to read the original because they will still get the general point.) And as I have mentioned before, writing and distributing online press-releases will always bypass mainstream media-outlets altogether — the online news-releases will still reach Google News from the PR websites even if major news-outlets are no longer included in the news-aggregation site.
So, the future?..the news media will increasingly need to create niche products with a strong online element to remain successful in the Internet world, paid or not.