Newsday’s Play to Pay

So, yesterday, Newsday executives announced that they’ll begin charging for content on the Long Island paper’s Web site. “Our goal was and is to use our electronic network assets and subscriber relationships to transform the way news is distributed,” (Newsday owner) Cablevision’s COO, Tom Rutledge, said in a conference call with Cablevision investors. “We plan to end distribution of free web content and make our news gathering capabilities service our customers.”

The reaction around the blogosphere has been…well, imagine Nelson Muntz reacting to it. It wasn’t all negative, to be sure; but, generally, the pessimism about Cablevision’s scheme—not just about the idea of charging for Web content in general, but about the notion of Newsday having pretensions to doing so—was nearly palpable. As Nelson might say: “HAha!”

To wit:

- Valleywag’s Owen Thomas: “The only newspapers seriously considering pay-to-read schemes are also-ran operations like Newsday. The right answer is embracing new sources of traffic (and hence revenue) like Google News — not shutting them off.”

- Content Bridges’ Ken Doctor: “Confronted with having to pay for a site you may use less than five minutes a month, you think you are going to pay for it? Wrong site. Wrong year. Wrong metro area.”

- Portfolio’s Jeff Bercovici: “Without knowing more about Cablevision’s plans, it’s impossible to say they won’t work. But you have to wonder how a company that’s already written down more than $400 million of the $650 million it paid for Newsday just last year suddenly came into possession of so much foresight.”

- Media appraiser Kevin Kamen: “If Cablevision honestly believes that charging a web subscriber fee is going to significantly impact their profit margins then they are really in for a shocker. This has not been an effective tool to drive revenue at other newspapers and will not increase the valuation of Newsday. If anything, millions less will visit their website and readers will seek other alternatives to fill their appetite for local news.”

- Newspaper Death Watch’s Paul Gillin: “Someone was going to have to step up and reverse the tide of free content, but Newsday?”

- Editor & Publisher’s blog E&P Pub: “Canary enters coal mine. Will be fun to watch.”

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.