So, Newsday, how’s that paywall working out for you?

As a native Long Islander, I was amused when Newsday, our local paper, waded fearlessly and without irony into the ice-cold waters of charging for news on the internet.

I don’t know anyone who has ever paid for a physical copy of Newsday. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure I thought they were passed out free on the Long Island Railroad until I was about eighteen. Even in high school, in a year full of stoners, everyone was totally too good for Newsday and favored the New York Times when they could afford it. Still, Newsday felt they would be able to charge for access to their poorly designed and annoying to navigating site, done in dark blue with white print- and not at a bargain rate, either.

Back in October, Newsday decided to charge $5 a week (a week!), or $260 a year for access to news about the Hamptons and Massapequa. And how many people do you think availed themselves of that fantastic offer? 10,000? 1,000? 100? Try 35. Not 35,000, 3,500 or 350. 35 people were interested in paying for access to Newsday content. That’s like, not even half of a single car on a rush hour train from Babylon to Penn Station. Fail.

In fairness to Newsday, a large portion of Long Island has access to the paper without having to pay the online fee. 75% of Long Islanders have either a subscription to Newsday itself, or subscribe to Cablevision/Optimum and are comped access to the site. But that figure of 75% has not been broken down into paper subscribers versus those who get freebies with cable, and most telling is the fact that traffic has dropped significantly since the paywall went up:

According to Nielsen Online, traffic has fallen since the paywall went up. In October, the web site had 2.2 million unique users. After the paywall went up that total fell to 1.7 million and 1.5 million in November and December, respectively.

While I like to mock the very public failure of my very local newspaper, the numbers are a cautionary tale to others who think a pay-for access model (and a ballsy one at that) is going to work any differently in this market. Newsday will continue to hemorrhage funds (the site redesign ahead of the paywall cost $4m) until they realize no one on the internet is going to pay for content they can get for free elsewhere. Unless you’ve got something very unique with a completely dedicated base of readers, it will fail. Spectacularly.

[Observer via Gawker]