I can’t decide whether to feel schadenfreude or pity for Newsday, the Long Island daily newspaper. They have 35 (yes, thirty-five) paid subscribers for their online newspaper.
The New York Observer reveled in schadenfreudic glee as they reported this news:
As in fewer than three dozen. As in a decent-sized elementary-school class.
That astoundingly low figure was revealed in a newsroom-wide meeting last week by publisher Terry Jimenez when a reporter asked how many people had signed up for the site. Mr. Jimenez didn’t know the number off the top of his head, so he asked a deputy sitting near him. He replied 35.
Michael Amon, a social services reporter, asked for clarification.
“I heard you say 35 people,” he said, from Newsday’s auditorium in Melville. “Is that number correct?”
Mr. Jimenez nodded.
Man, I haven’t written with that much malicious glee since Ann Coulter had to have her jaw wired shut.
What’s worse is that Newsday has had their newspaper behind a paywall, newsday.com, since October 2009. (I’m not going to hotlink newsday.com, since you’d have to pay to read any of the stories anyway.)
Apparently, this new website cost Newsday $4 million, and they have grossed $9,000.
That doesn’t mean there are only 35 people reading the website. Anyone who subscribes to the paper or has Optimum Cable gets free access — about 75% of Long Island. I’m not sure how many subscribers there are to the paper, but it’s a nice little out to give free access to cable subscribers as a way to boost subscription numbers.
Still, other dailies considering going to a paid-only option may be feeling a little more panic than they’re already feeling, having laid off most of their local writers and getting local content from non-local providers, and then wondering why people aren’t subscribing anymore.
We can learn or surmise a few things about the newspaper industry from Newsday’s crappy subscribership and the Indianapolis Star’s not-so-slow descent into USA Today: Indianapolis Edition.
- Readers have gotten spoiled. We’re used to getting our news for free, so we’re a little hesitant to pay for something we can get elsewhere. Since the Star is nothing more than an Associated Press outlet these days, I can hop over to AP.org if I want some national news.
- People want local content. And not-so-surprisingly, we want it from local sources. The Indy Star is getting local content from Metromix, a company based out of Chicago. Long Island’s Newsday is putting local spins on national stories. “What LIers Want to Hear In Obama’s Address” was one of today’s headlines. Why would people want to pay for something like this? If it was truly local news, I would care. But it isn’t, so I don’t.
If newspapers truly want to make money online, they need to consider going back to truly local news, written by local reporters who have more experience than a journalism internship and six months of covering school board meetings. Let the national news outlets cover the national news. Make your newspaper the best and only source for local news.
This is where the small weeklies and dailies are going to survive, and even succeed by focusing on local content, with only a brief mention of world and national affairs.