Ken Davidoff, we hardly knew ye

According to press release from Newsday, Newsday is pioneering a new web model which involves charging money for Newsday.

According to me, Newsday is pioneering its way into new realms of dumb.

Here I thought the black background with white font was a bad idea.

I grew up on Long Island and my family subscribed to Newsday. Whenever I put aside dreams of being the President or an NFL linebacker to focus on the more realistic goal of becoming a professional sportswriter, I imagined writing for Newsday.

Now, starting in six days, I will no longer read Newsday, since I am unwilling to pay $20 a month to read Newsday.

The shame is that Ken Davidoff, the best baseball columnist in the New York papers and obvious respecter of me, writes for Newsday. So does Neil Best, the best of the sports media critics in the market and David Lennon, one of the best Mets beat writers.

They’re all good journalists, but they’re not $20 a month good when there’s so much else on the web. It’s essentially like paying for music or video on the Internet. Why bother when there’s so much free stuff out there?

Maybe Newsday really is pioneering a brilliant new era of Web money-making, and maybe they employed a bunch of really smart people who determined that this was a viable business model, but I doubt it. It feels like a last-ditch desperation move by another newspaper in financial straits.

I just don’t imagine making content exclusive is the way to increase awareness and expand the online footprint. It makes some sense when it’s the Wall Street Journal or something which fills a very specific niche and caters to rich people, but not with plain-old Newsday.

I have to guess Newsday will stop charging pretty swiftly, or maybe fold. I don’t know.

It’s a shame and I’ll certainly miss it, but the upside is at least I won’t have nearly so much exposure to Wallace Matthews.

17 thoughts on “Ken Davidoff, we hardly knew ye

  1. I was always surprised and happy to be able to follow the Mets via Newsday for free from LA, but can’t imagine paying for the priviledge. Fortunately, there are plenty of other sites now (Metsblog, etc.) that help feed my habit. I really like your new site here and have made this a regular stop on my daily Mets info path.

  2. First they had that putrid blark blue background of which I told them I wouldn’t visit till rectification.

    And now, if true they plan to charge a monthly fee….well, I won’t be visiting.

  3. I don’t like the idea of paying, but really, what are they supposed to do? With printed newspaper circulation way down, how are they to survive? When you go to a newstand, they don’t give you the paper for free …. who is going to pay for the company infrastructure that funds the daily creation of the newspaper’s contents?

    Like I said, I don’t like it, but I am surprised it has taken this long for them to do it …. ESPN has been charging for their Insider stuff for years and people subscribe to that.

    • This is true, but keep in mind that ESPN already has tons and tons of traffic just based on its free content, and its reputation as the main destination for online sports news. So they can probably get away with charging because people are already there, clicking around.

      The press release says that the remaining free stuff at Newsday.com will be “the homepage, classifieds, school closings, obituaries, weather and entertainment listings.” That’s not going to draw me to Newsday.com, and so I’ll be much less likely to pay for anything I see on there.

      Of course, as you point out, they have to find some way to better monetize their web content. This is a huge challenge and I certainly don’t have the solution, but I don’t think charging for stuff is the answer.

      What does Newsday offer that’s so special that people can’t get it elsewhere? Sure, there are good writers and reporters, but the other papers have good writers and reporters, too. There’s local news to Long Island, but I have the feeling that niche is going to eventually be filled by hyperlocalized, user-generated blog sites like Neighborhoodr.

      • I think the whole point of monetizing web content is that Newsday makes so little money off the web anyways, it won’t really lose anything with subscriptions. Because it’s only making 43 bucks per web user annually when it’s free, all Newsday needs is to rope somebody in for two months, and it’s not losing anything with the paywall. Anything more than that is gravy.

        To be sure, Newsday’s traffic will get crushed. But what’s the point of pulling traffic if you’re making such a pittance? Bite the bullet, build the paywall and devote the limited number of smart minds that you own to doing what they do best: putting eyeballs on the site.

        Newsday is almost certainly going to die, but at least it’s going down with a fight.

      • Because, as you suggest, it’s not at all sustainable. Ad costs and circulation, as the article you cite says, are plummeting. Plus, the numbers you cite — as it states in the article — do not account for how much more expensive it is to print and distribute newspapers than it is to post stories online.

        Maybe charging for online content will slightly delay Newsday’s death, but it will do nothing to prevent it. Papers are dying because fewer and fewer people are buying the paper. Making it more difficult for those people — most of whom are looking online for their news — to actually read and interact with your content seems pretty amazingly short-sighted.

        Newspapers need to figure out a way to increase the revenue they make off the online users they have, but it absolutely should not come at the cost in numbers of online users.

  4. Folks, this has nothing to do with monetizing web content. Focusing on that issue means completely missing the thinking underlying this decision. This is all about Cablevision using Newsday as a value-added service to differentiate Cablevision’s range of extremely profitable core assets – TV, Internet and VOIP – from the increasing threat of Verizon FIOS.

    • You’re almost certainly right. But I wonder how much value access to Newsday adds to a cable Internet package, and if that move itself might not be a bit short-sighted. Do you think Cablevision would prop up Newsday just as a selling point for their other products, even if it stops netting them money?

  5. Let’s face it: Delivery of news content is moving increasingly online. While most of us here will miss Newsday because of Ken Davidoff — heck, I co-author a Davidoff-focused blog — Newsday’s strength as a newspaper is that it is the leader in Long Island news. For a lot of people, that has value. The thought process that Cablevision is likely relying on is the one where someone says, “Well, I want Internet acces, and Newsday is important to me, so I may as well get my Internet from them so I can get Newsday, too.”

    Newsday has weekday circulation of about 375,000 and Sunday circulation around 500,000. Despite how many more papers are sold during the week — and those numbers have been dropping for years — a print paper garners half of its weekly revenues from the Sunday paper. This is not a money-making business.

    Cablevision, in contrast, makes loads of money. The primary overhead for cable was invested when the lines were put in the ground. Now the overhead only comes in much-less expensive forms: customer service and installation technicians. For years they had the market to themselves. Just a few years ago, the Cablevision subscriber growth rate was 20%. Now it’s 5%. This decline is from two factors: One is the market was available to be tapped, and the more recent development is competition from Verizon.

    There is almost nothing Cablevision can almost do to increase its market size. But they can try to limit the impact of Verizon. It doesn’t take many people to remain with Cablevision (or switch to it) to compensate for the loss of loads of Web traffic. As a minor but added bonus, they could leverage online Newsday ad sales since they can market the fact that they have a targeted audience.

    Put it all together, and here’s what we’re looking at: Content today is primarily delivered in one of two ways: either through cable/DSL or through cellular networks. Obviously, Cablevision has a strong presence in the cable market but no feasible access to the cellular world. At best, little money is made through print and online media. Cablevision doesn’t care that the Newsday pay wall will likely reduce their number of site visits by half. They just want people who are profitable customers, and those are the people who buy a Cablevision product or service.

    Have a look around Newsday while you can. Outside of sports, they are only covering local news. National and international content is provided by wire services and the Associated Press. The point is, Newsday has already cut costs dramatically — have you noticed Ken Davidoff only attends out-of-market regular season games when they are accessible by train? — and the paper is still operating in the red. The risk here is that one of the other three NY papers will step in to provide strong coverage of the Long Island market. If that happens, Newsday is almost completely lost as a selling point except to those who have come to trust it (much like how people who drive a Chevy will never drive a Ford).

    Even if Newsday maintains Long Island as a market without much news competition, Newsday on its own is not enough of a value proposition to completely stem the loss of Cablevision subscribers to Verizon. As another offering, we know that Cablevision has already installed WiFi hotspots throughout Long Island for its subscribers. Perhaps Cablevision has additional plans to increase the value they offer.

    Such ideas better be good, though. Yes, I do think Cablevision is propping up Newsday as a selling point for its other products. And, yes, I do think it will help their bottom line a little. But more importantly, I don’t think it will help their bottom line enough to raise the stock price, and that’s the most important number to the people running Cablevision.

  6. They can’t charge us for Davidoff’s and Lennon’s Twitter updates (yet) — and with so many blogs posting opinion and analysis, the real-time Tweets are the most valuable resources provided by those writers anyway.

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