Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

How Much Would You Pay to Read

carey_cable_guyZilch. That’s the snap consensus from the Web pundits, who are baffled by Cablevision’s plan to start charging for access to the online version of Newsday, the Long Island daily it overpaid for last year.

And it’s not as if Cablevision (CVC) executives are making a persuasive case: They announced their plan via a one-sentence aside from Chief Operating Officer Thomas Rutledge during yesterday’s earnings call–“We plan to end distribution of free web content and make our news gathering capabilities service our customers.”–and have yet to expand on it. So if I can wrangle more info, I’ll pass it along.

In the meantime, some speculation. Conventional wisdom tells us that the only publications with a hope of charging a premium for their content are those that offer specialized stuff, like the business news that News Corp.’s (NWS) Wall Street Journal charges for. (This Web site is owned by Dow Jones, which publishes The Journal).

And while you could argue that Newsday’s geographic focus makes it specialized–the three other New York dailies don’t really pay much attention to Long Island–the only local paper to get away with charging for online access so far is the Little Rock, Ark.-based Democrat-Gazette.

My hunch: The content Cablevision thinks is particularly valuable here isn’t Newsday’s news but its ads, particularly its classifieds, which the company wants to sell in packages with its TV advertising.

It’s already in the process of integrating the paper’s auto ads with interactive ads it runs on its cable networks–the company did talk about that during its earnings calls. And before you tell me that free competitors like Craigslist will eat Newsday/Cablevision’s lunch, do check out the difference between Newsday’s auto ads and the ones you can find via Craig’s Long Island offering.

So: If you live in, say, Port Jefferson, and you’re in the market for, say, a used Nissan, you’ve got an incentive to use Cablevision/Newsday’s “Optimum Autos.” Perhaps even to pay for it–as a one-off. Could that be enough to justify putting the rest of the paper behind a pay wall?