Early Results from the Newsday Paywall

It’s no surprise that Newsday’s Web traffic declined after it put up a paywall. What is surprising is how it declined.

Unique visitors declined just 21 percent from October (the paywall went up October 28) to November, according to MediaPost. But page views declined more, dropping 34 percent.

My working hypothesis is that even if a newspaper starts charging online, it will disproportionately hold on to its loyal readers, the ones who spend more time and click more pages than the type of readers who won’t pay, like the “junk traffic” sent via a stray Google search. That should mean even though unique visitors would plunge, page views would fall quite a bit less.

What gives? Is my theory wrong?

Well, it’s unclear. This is just one month of data, which means any noise in the stats aren’t smoothed out. And Newsday is a special case. No other paper is likely to implement a strategy that looks anything like what its done. It charges a whopping $260 for access unless you subscribe to its parent company Cablevision’s high-speed Internet access, in which case you get to read Newsday for free. Three out of four Long Islanders use Cablevision’s Internet service and go on reading for free.

And the trend doesn’t hold if you look at year-over-year numbers. Newsday’s unique visitors were down 43 percent from a year ago (when election traffic and a murder story goosed its numbers), but page views are down less, at 35 percent.

Still, I’d expect the disparity there to be larger. It will take a few more months of data to see how this plays out for the paper.

It’s also notable that Newsday didn’t disclose how many people are actually paying that $5 a week to read it online. You can bet that’s because there aren’t many at all.

(h/t Reynolds Center)

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.