Paywalled Aggregator Backed By ‘Big Newspaper’ Shuts Down

Posted on May 13, 2012

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As we mentioned in our last post, marketing to niche audiences is a great way for general news pubs to rake in online dollars.

But what about the flip side — paywalled aggregators?

There haven’t been many to choose from, but a year and a half ago, The New York Times Co., The Washington Post Co., and Gannett invested $4 million each in Ongo, an online news aggregator with a paywall.

But Ongo had a confusing subscription offering, with a basic service that included “selected” content. Subscribers then had to pay more for individual publications, priced at different rates. In addition, much of the content was available free on the Web through other sites or metered paywalls. And so now, sadly, Ongo is shutting down.

Ongo’s strength may have been that subscribers could access their content from  multiple devices — desktop, tablet, mobile — and have an ad-free reading experience. As Ongo founder Alex Kazim said in an interview with paidContent last year: “We realized that users won’t pay for content — however, they will pay for a better user experience.”

Even though we disagree with the first half of Kazim’s statement (and have ample evidence to the contrary), there’s wisdom in the latter part of his statement for all of us. Failure makes for great lessons. In Ongo’s case, the technology was well-suited to reader behavior. It’s just that the marketing and pricing were off and couldn’t course correct in time to satisfy Ongo’s ‘Big Newspaper’ investors.

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