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When Newspaper Pay Models Fail

Digital subscriptions to newspapers have been a hot topic of late, just last week the New York Times announced plans to launch a pay service next year. But I just happened upon a shocking, cautionary tale — pay models don't already work. The New York Observer just reported that Newsday.com's $5 a month service has only attracted 35 subscribers.

Seriously?

This speaks to the incredible expectations publishers have for their content. Not only did the Dolan family buy Newsday for a whopping $650 million in October, but they also spent millions redesigning and re-launching the site.

Why did it fail? Newsday's content just isn't differentiated enough for consumers to pay for it. There are plenty of free options that provide comparable content. And unlike the Wall Street Journal, whose content is professionally useful, if not crucial, to thousands of people. Is Newsday content crucial to professional success?

Probably not.

Let this be a warning to the New York Times and other upcoming subscription services: make sure your behind the firewall content is unique and truly superior to free alternatives. These papers have to make themselves invaluable — whether it's for restaurant reviews or business stories.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com