Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Maybe Newsday Made Its Pay Wall a Little Too Strong

That pay wall that Newsday put around its Web site last year? Crazily effective–at keeping people from buying an online subscription.

Last year, when executives from Cablevision (CVC) announced plans to turn their  paper’s Web site into a pay-to-play proposition, I dreamed up a way it could work: Maybe Long Island residents who wanted to peruse the paper’s classifieds would pay up. Nope.

Since the wall went up three months ago, only 35 people–as in not quite three dozen–have paid the $5-a-week fee for Web access, the New York Observer reports.

The Observer’s John Koblin quotes a Cablevision PR person who says that the “modest” pickup isn’t a surprise, but that’s some very unconvincing spin. Putting up a pay wall isn’t cheap or easy: Why bother if it only generates an extra $9,000?

Here’s the full statement from Cablevision/Newsday:

Millions of Cablevision customers in the New York tri-state area and 75% of Long Island households, including all Newsday home delivery subscribers, now have exclusive access to at no additional charge. Internal research shows that Newsday’s Web site is an extremely popular new benefit to hundreds of thousands of Long Island Cablevision households. Given the number of households in our market that have access to Newsday’s Web site as a result of other subscriptions, it is no surprise that a relatively modest number have chosen the pay option.

As PaidContent notes, Cablevision can also argue that the real idea behind the pay wall is that it’s supposed to make existing subscribers feel like they’re getting something of real value (advertisers too, supposedly). But it’s hard to argue that online access is a “value-add” if only 35 people value it.

It’s also hard to argue that Cablevision’s problems offer any clue about the prospects of the New York Times’s (NYT) coming pay wall. Because the Times is a different beast from any other paper in the country.

I would be interested, though, in learning how the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune did with “Access Vikings Premium,” a $20-a-year pay wall it put up around most stories about the home team last season.

I could see the thinking behind this one, which showed up around the same time Brett Favre joined the team. And this was the year to try it, since the Vikings had a great season until they blew the NFC Conference game, as is their wont.

But in my personal one-man focus group, the pay wall only served to keep me from visiting at all. I see now that the paper seems to have dropped the wall around content it used to ask me to pay for, so perhaps I wasn’t the only one. I’ve asked the paper for more details.

UPDATE: Strib spokesman Ben Taylor gives me a no comment, which apparently has been the paper’s stance on this for many months. MinnPost’s David Brauer explains, while noting that three of the paper’s biggest traffic days have been spurred by Vikings news.

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Nobody was excited about paying top dollar for a movie about WikiLeaks. A film about the origins of would have done better.

— Gitesh Pandya of comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”