By Mike Steffanos
I live in Waterbury, CT, about 70 miles or so away from Shea Stadium. The local paper doesn't offer any Mets coverage at all outside of the standard wire service stuff, so I need to go elsewhere to find my New York Mets news.
Thanks to the Internet, I've been lucky enough to have on-line access to all of the New York area dailies that cover the Mets. A few years ago when I had more free time, I would spend 45 minutes to an hour a day reading most of the stories written in the Daily News, Post, Times, Newsday, Record, The Journal News and the Star-Ledger. I'd also spend another half hour reading some of the national stuff.
My life has become more hectic since then, and a half hour a day is all the time I can typically devote to all of my baseball-related on-line reading. I've learned to be more efficient in skimming most of the stuff and picking out the few items that seem worth devoting more time to. I try to at least skim Buster Olney, Rob Neyer and some of the better stuff at ESPN on a daily basis. I also spend a few minutes daily skimming and reading my favorite Mets blogs.
I've been aware for some time that Newsday was in the process of implementing a subscriber based on-line system, which is now in place. When you click over to an article on their site you get a small tease and a notice that if you are not a subscriber to the print version of the paper or Cablevision's Optimum Online cable Internet, you have to subscribe to access the rest of the content.
This not only applied to the Mets articles, but even the paper's Mets Blog and Ken Davidoff's baseball insider blog -- and, I'm sure, anything else in the paper you might want to access.
There are three subscription options: one, subscribe to the paper and the web site is free; two, sign up for Optimum Online and also get the site for free; and three, pay a weekly fee to access only the web site.
Since I live outside the areas for Newsday delivery and Optimum Online, my only option would be to sign up for the weekly web site access. However, at $5 per week, that won't be happening soon.
I figure that I might spend a maximum of a half-hour per week reading Newsday content right now, mostly David Lennon's beat coverage and Davidoff's blog and the occasional column of interest. As much as I enjoy them, they're not worth more than $250 per year to me.
If I lived in western Long Island I might be interested enough in the local coverage and other items to justify the money, but that's not the case. A subscription to the web site has much less value to me than a local person, but Newsday is basically offering all or nothing access with nothing to differentiate between my likely usage and theirs.
No longer having access to Newsday won't change my life all that much. I'll spend the time I used to spend at Newsday.com on other sites. I'll miss Lennon's insights and Davidoff's stuff, but I never had much use for Wallace Matthews or the other guys there, anyway.
I have to say, though, I was very surprised that Newsday is charging $5 a week for their content. I understand that an ad-based revenue system isn't paying the bills for on-line newspapers, but I would expect the web site's traffic to drop fairly dramatically at that price level.
To put it into perspective, $4 per week would buy me both 7 days a week delivery of my local paper and full access to their web site.
At full retail, a subscription to ESPN Insider costs less than $1 per week -- and I'm getting Buster Olney, Peter Gammons and Keith Law for that money as opposed to paying more than 5 times that price for Matthews, Mark Hermann and Anthony Rieber. With respect, Rob Neyer puts out more intelligent content in a week than those guys do in a year, and his stuff is still completely free on ESPN.com. Sorry, but even Davidoff and Lennon can't tilt those scales far enough for me.
I'm sure the other local NYC area papers are watching the Newsday pricing model with interest. Newspapers across the country are going out of business as print sales continue to drop along with web site ad revenue. Classified ads, once a large source of profit, have been almost completely supplanted by cyberspace equivalents.
On-line readers mostly ignore an ad, which forces these sites to resort to more intrusive and annoying methods of serving up the ads. I find myself becoming very adept at closing pop-ups and clicking through ads that assure me that my content will appear shortly. I don't pay any attention at all to what they are advertising.
I know enough about business to understand that people like me aren't paying the bills for the cost of gathering and presenting the news, so I'm not surprised that the providers of this content are looking for other methods of getting paid for their product.
On the other hand, Newsday will no longer make any money at all off of me and others who decide that $5 a week doesn't represent value at our level of consumption.
In the short run we will turn to the sources of content that are still free but, as these sources make the tough decisions on how they will survive, ultimately I assume those free sources will dry up.
Although I am a proud blogger, I am not one who believes that bloggers can ultimately replace traditional media sources. I do, however, believe those traditional sources will evolve into something quite different than they are today, and I'd be surprised if the current Newsday model bears any resemblance to what that future might look like.
Perhaps in the long term it will be easier to implement different pricing models for different levels of access to on-line content. In the meantime, though, it seems to me that content providers will have some tough choices to make.
These choices won't be limited to the print media, either. Most of the television I watch, other than live sports and some news, is recorded to DVR and watched later. Needless to say, I don't watch the commercials when I play these programs back.
I am still the exception rather than the rule for television consumers, but as DVR viewing continues to increase broadcast and cable networks will look to replace lost ad revenue, even as their audience continues to splinter to ever-increasing content choices.
You wonder how much longer cable and satellite companies will be able to continue to sell their programming in tiers of service where consumers are forced to pay for channels and programming they never watch.
We are living in an interesting time. Not since television took hold of the country after World War II has there been a dramatic change in the way consumers receive content as I believe we will experience in the coming years. Not even the rise of the Internet, as important is it has become, will rival the transformation the next couple of decades will bring to our lives. Some forms of media will adapt and evolve, and others will go the way of the wooly mammoth and saber tooth tiger.
Traditional print sources of news aren't likely to disappear, but I do think what ESPN is doing in combing television, print and on-line under one brand seems more likely to endure than what Newsday is doing, which is essentially taking the old print model on-line and putting a "one size fits all" price tag on it. In any case, this will be interesting to watch in the coming months. Stay tuned.
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