Are Paid Online Subscriptions Bound to Take Off?

Posted on January 27, 2010 10:35 AM by Rob Williams

I’m sure it will come as no surprise to anyone that real newspapers (as in, made of paper) are dying off in huge numbers. Over the years, there’s been many popular and well-known newspapers that have shut down, and that happening was inevitable once the Internet became popular. I still believe that newspapers have their place, but I’m sure many wouldn’t argue that most often, it’s just far more convenient to read the news on a PC. Not to mention, you can’t get late-breaking news via a newspaper, as you can online.

With newsprint seemingly on the path to extinction, so are the paid subscriptions. To help remedy the issue, some select online newspapers have decided to offer paid subscriptions to a varying amount of success. The idea has also rubbed off on other outlets, such as CNET, which is planning to unveil a paid subscription model in the future. But the question I have is… will people actually pay for a subscription?

This, to me, is a major question, and my initial answer is “no”. If paid subscriptions become so commonplace that thousands of websites end up adopting the model, then sure, but the uptake is going to be awful slow, that’s for sure. Plus, we’re going to run into an issue where if too many sites require subscriptions, trying to link people to an article when they don’t have a subscription will become frustrating, fast.

I’ll admit, I’m not against the paid subscription model, because advertising deals are difficult to finalize and are too much hassle. Paid subscriptions would help a website succeed, and produce better content in the long-run. But as I mentioned, to see such a model succeed is tough, and so far, it looks like one site which has begun offering paid subscriptions isn’t having too much luck.

Newsday, a site with a Long Island and New York focus, began offering a $5 per week subscription plan to its visitors. Has it been a success? Not so much. After three months, the site earned 35 subscribers. That’s not 35K… just 35, as in (12 x 3) – 1. So, needless to say, it doesn’t seem like the paid subscription model is going to have an easy time to get going. I’m interested in what you guys think. Would you pay for a site you enjoy visiting, or would you just suck it up and go elsewhere?


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.

Source: New York Observer

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