Friday, October 23, 2009

Newsday Will Tweak Web Paywall as Conditions Warrant

Newsday will alter what's free and what isn't on its website after it unveils a new subscriber requirement next week, Debby Krenek, managing editor and senior vice president/digital media, tells Editor & Publisher's Joe Strupp.

Krenek, who has overseen the Web site since 2001, told E&P nothing is set in stone -- and the site may well make some paid items free, and vice versa, as time goes on.

"The Web is a moving, breathing thing. We are going to be able to watch and see what people do," said Krenek. "We are going to be tweaking based on what [readers] have to say. One of the great things about the Web is that you get immediate feedback on what your users are coming to you for."

For example, if a big story breaks that editors feel should require free access, they will allow it. "If there is something that is of critical need for Long Islanders to be aware, we would give them access," she said. "Some major disaster in the area, some health scare, anything we feel would be critical.

"We think it is going to be successful and a real value for Long Islanders," said Krenek, a former editor of New York's Daily News. "We have a unique opportunity to do it."

Newsday print subscribers and Optimum customers will have total access to the website while other customers will be charged $5 per week.

Jennifer Saba of Editor & Publisher talked to some media analysts who sai it's not as risky of a venture as it would seem at first glance:

Alan Mutter, a newspaper observer and author of Reflections of a Newsosaur. "It's not nearly as bold as an experiment as it appears to be," he said. Since Cablevision already reaches 75% of Long Island, there is a "much smaller risk of losing online traffic than the typical newspaper would."

Newsday can take such gamble thanks to Cablevision's online subscribers. If Newsday were to go this alone and not offer free access to Optimum Online users it would reach much less of its core market. According to Newsday's most recent Audit Bureau of Circulations Audit Report for the year ending September 2008, Newsday's average daily circulation covered 38% of Suffolk County and 36% of Nassau County.

Noted Ken Doctor, an affiliate analyst at Outsell Research and author of Content Bridges: "I think this is a one-off because of the unique nature of a cable company that owns a newspaper. I don't see it as a model that applies to anybody else."

What is interesting, said Doctor, is that Cablevision is essentially charging for access, not content. And it's using a model that is already very familiar to the newspaper industry: bundling.

No comments: