Saturday, February 28, 2009

Newsday has the audience to make paid content work.

"We plan to end the distribution of free Web content and make our news gather capabilities a service to our customers," Cablevision COO Tom Rutledge said on an earnings call. The statement is up to interpretation but it has added to recent conversation about micropayments and other models for paid content.

Ken Doctor at Content Bridges sites E&P Nielson Rankings in arguing that Newsday will have a tough time monetizing the mere 4.5 minutes a month the average unique visitor spends on the site. Number of unique visitors is not a significant statistic for the purposes of understanding how a paid-content model will work.

Unique visitors include everyone who has seen the site, even those who arrive through Google search and stay only a minute. The people who would pay for Newsday content are those who (1) visit the site often, (2) have high engagement in the website's offerings, and/or (3) are already paying customers--either to a print subscription or classified/display advertising. The goal is to find out who they are a create a paid content product for them.

Newsday has a strong subscriber base. According to a Newsday classifieds rep reached by phone, they have 700,000 exclusive readers, circulation of 387,000, and altogether 3/4 of adults in Long Island. 75% of their readers have the publication delivered to their door. However, of that circulation, who is using the website, and how are they using it? Alternatively, how much of those unique website visitors pay for a print edition or for advertising, and (again) how do they use the website?

Content Bridges quotes email from an unnamed Newsday reporter, "[At Newsday] the Web is seen, still, as an accessory to the dead-tree edition. There is no emphasis from the newsroom editors on getting content online quickly, on blogging, etc.". Newsday will not succeed by adding an online price tag to made-for-print content. It has to build the internal structures needed to develop digital content products to an audience that will pay for them.

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