Wednesday, October 03, 2007
JON FRIEDMAN'S MEDIA WEB
'All the news that's fit to click' at NYTimes.com
Commentary: Separately, why the Times killed the TimesSelect program
By Jon Friedman
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- It takes a lot to wipe the smile off Vivian Schiller's face.
"People tell me that my biggest character flaw is that I'm a Pollyanna," the general manager of the New York Times' Web site, NYTimes.com, told me. However, she couldn't help but frown when pondering the reaction to the recent decision to kill the TimesSelect program.
In 2005, amid fanfare, The New York Times Co. (NYTNew York Times Company
News, chart, profile, more launched TimesSelect, believing that customers would be willing to pay $49.95 a year or $7.95 a month to read columns and other online content as well as to gain access to the Times' vast archives. (There was no charge for print subscribers or for some students and educators.) The program produced annual revenue of about $10 million.
But after news of its demise made the rounds, bloggers proclaimed that TimesSelect had bombed and that the mighty Times miscalculated from the start, ultimately swallowing its pride by putting TimesSelect out of its misery. To be fair, I suspect that a lot of them have simply always hated the Times and were trying to make the paper look bad.
"We're a target," Schiller shrugged over lunch on Monday. "I'm still PO'd that [blogger] Jeff Jarvis called TimesSelect a cynical act. We're the least cynical people around -- for the news business." (Yes, I almost choked on my coffee at the notion that any New York Times people could lack cynicism.)
For the record, Jarvis told me: "What I meant was that by choosing to put up the Times columnists, it was a clever or cynical act. It didn't have an impact on their ad revenues since there are few ads [surrounding] their columnists. It's not like they put travel stories behind a pay wall. I wasn't trying to condemn the whole thing. I was trying to be wryly amusing about their cleverness."
The New York Times isn't alone in trying to find innovative ways to attract readers and turn them into paying customers. Newspapers everywhere are doing much the same thing. Just this week, the Financial Times said it would be unveiling a plan for its online content, in which it allowed 30 free views before asking readers to subscribe.
Yet naturally, media hounds immediately started to speculate that the Times made the move to pre-empt the rival Wall Street Journal, the jewel of Dow Jones (DJDJ
News, chart, profile, more which is acquiring Dow Jones, is said to be considering the idea of eventually converting WSJ.com into a free site. Dow Jones also owns MarketWatch, the publisher of this column.
Schiller downplayed the chatter, saying the mechanism was in place before news broke that News Corp. had made an unsolicited bid for Dow Jones.
"Our projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising,'' Schiller told Times media reporter Richard Perez-Pena last month.
"There's no mystery to it," Schiller told me the other day.
The flaw in Schiller's argument is that WSJ.com is a monument to the success that a fee-based Web site can still enjoy in 2007. It has a paid-subscriber base of nearly 1 million customers.
When TimesSelect was being launched, I wrote that the Times was suggesting its loyal liberal reader base would pony up a nominal fee to continue reading the likes of such widely followed columnists as Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich, Paul Krugman, Nick Kristof and (yes, even the resident conservative on the bench) David Brooks. See related column. Ultimately, TimesSelect attracted about 225,000 paying customers of its own.
Focus on growth
The NYTimes.com's growth strategy centers on the in-house mantra, "All the News That's Fit to Click," a twist on the newspaper's age-old motto, "All the News That's Fit to Print."
NYTimes.com, which was introduced in 1996 and now claims some 13 million unique users, has more than 30 blogs and 12 daily and weekly podcasts. It also generates 100-plus original video segments a month
"The whole marketing campaign stems from how people don't think of us only as an online newspaper," Schiller said. "You don't know what's going to stick. Slide shows have taken off like a rocket, accounting for 10% of our page views in August. Our strategy is to unleash the creativity of our journalists to tell their stories and build communities around areas of interest."
While the Times failed to give more specific statistics about the success of the slide shows, Schiller noted: "What it says to me is that you can figure out a compelling way to deliver news and information to the readers. What do we do next? We do more of them. We're thrilled that people are attracted to the core of what The New York Times is."
To flourish online, Schiller stressed, the Times doesn't intend merely to fall back on its world-class reputation.
"You can't just say 'Come and get it' any more," she said, leaning forward for emphasis. "You've got to push your content out. You've got to skate where the puck is going."