The revelation that Newsday has only 35 paid online subscribers may seem, at first glance, like bad news for the New York Times. But it’s not – at least not necessarily.
As PaidContent (which, ironically, does not appear to be a pay site) points out, Newsday’s online subscription subscription base was pretty much bound to be small because so many households in its local market get a free subscription with their cable package. Now, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Newday probably figured more than three dozen people would subscribe to the site. Still, one pay wall does not equal another. Newsday is not the Times.
There’s another thing at work here, though. The lesson of paid content is…wait for it…people will pay for good content. Shocking, right? Say what you will about the Times, it’s still got a robust site with a number of popular blogs and, more to the point, it still does plenty of original reporting. I am not familiar enough with Newday’s content to single it out for criticism, but I’d give this message to any newspaper considering a pay model: don’t expect people to pay for stories they can get elsewhere. You have to offer a differentiated product, preferably one that does one or two things, really, really well. That’s not say that only niche products can succeed with pay models. It is, however, to say that the way to succeed on the Internet is not focusing on fluff or writing ten blog posts per day or beating everyone to scoops by four minutes (though those things can help, to an extent). The secret is being good. It’s writing well and reporting well, and, hopefully, using the Internet to further that.
NYT’s metered system may present some issues – are people really going to pay if they can read one or two or three articles for free? However, it depends on how the wall is structured, frankly. Where you put your pay wall is probably more important than whether or not your have one (which is why TimesSelect failed). I can’t help but think that someday, someone is going to figure this out.