Blog Post

Paywall site Ongo, backed by NYT and WaPo, folds after 16 months

Paywall sites are having a bad month. Google (s GOOG) shuttered One Pass at the end of April. Now paywall and news aggregation site Ongo, which launched in January 2011 with $12 million in funding from the New York Times (s NYT), Washington Post (s WPO) and Gannett (s GPI), is closing, Nieman Journalism Lab reports.

Ongo was founded by former eBay (s EBAY) and PayPal exec Alex Kazim and aimed to aggregate news while charging for some content from big newspapers. NYTco’s Martin Nisenholtz described Ongo as a “Hulu of news.” But as Nieman explains, the pricing scheme was confusing:

basic Ongo subscription gave you access to content from The Washington Post and USA Today — but only “Top Stories” from Reuters, “Selected Content” from the Financial Times, and “Picks” from The New York Times. If you wanted to add more publications beyond the core offerings, those came at significantly varied prices — 99 cents a month for Slate, Salon, or Engadget; $3.99 for the Christian Science Monitor; $9.99 for the Chicago Tribune or The Miami Herald; either 99 cents or $14.99 a month for The Worcester Telegram & Gazette, depending on how much of it you wanted; and so on.

Some of the content that Ongo charged for was free on the publisher site. And to further complicate things, the New York Times launched its own paywall in March 2011, just a couple months after Ongo opened for business. At launch, Ongo charged $6.99 per month for a subscription; that cost was later lowered to $1.99, but it wasn’t enough to save the site.

Ongo’s closure leaves RR Donnelley’s Press+ as the largest standing paywall solution, with around 350 publications using the service. Press+ cofounder Gordon Crovitz recently proclaimed to the Wrap, “Paywalls won’t save news publishing by themselves, but…it’s the single biggest new source of revenue for papers.” But Ongo’s failure suggests paywall implementation may be best left to individual papers — and that readers don’t want to pay for an aggregation site.

5 Responses to “Paywall site Ongo, backed by NYT and WaPo, folds after 16 months”

  1. Greg Golebiewski

    It is not the idea (even though I know solutions better than paywalls), but poor execution that failed Ongo.

    It is amazing that the newspapers behind Ongo invested millions in the project, and then started their own paywalls or advocated against them, as WoPo did — such a waste of money and efforts. Kazim must be grinding his teeth.

    • Cynthia Typaldos

      Yes, gotta agree. It was just weird how the newspapers put millions of $ into Ongo and then did everything to make sure it could not succeed. Sad for Kazim; I’m sure he and his team worked very hard and with great dedication.

  2. Too bad for the Ongo team, that was an interesting model. Certainly, as rightly pointed by Laura in the article, the challenge is to have a “bundled” offer next to dedicated paywalls per newspaper. The strategy then becomes confusing for users and technically difficult to sustain.

    Also, press centric models are clearly a risky choice long term. All forms of media are mashing up, from articles, videos, live content, and interactive presentation or apps. Certainly, solutions able to cope with the evolution of user consumption are those who will best succeed.

    It is not true that Press+ is now the only remaining offer available, there are several more and maybe US should look more at Europe’s solutions. See for example Cleeng, who has with 500+ active publishers, ranging from Blogs (VentureBeat), Financial Newspapers (LaTribune in France), or press consortiums like GoPress in Belgium. The closure of OnePass or Ongo might offer new opportunities.

  3. www is a free culture. Apps are not a free culture. Eeven though many thousands of apps are indeed free – the App culture does not *expect* everything to be free. This is the difference. Apps are the future rev source for all news/media publishers. Consolidation will continue, websites will close down (not paywall) and only global mastheads, national mastheads and niche content brands will survive.

    • Anti-Eric

      Apps suck, Apple takes too big a cut, the content is isolated. Too expensive to produce. I’ve changed my mind already.

      And herein lies the problem. Almost 20 years in and still no real revenue solution for content producers.