Sunday, September 29, 2013

At the New York Times, Perilous Task of Innovation in a Digital Age

From Public Editor Margaret Sullivan, at the New York Times:
CRUISES. Conferences. New forms of advertising. Fancy multimedia storytelling.

The Gray Lady, as The New York Times has long been known, isn’t as sedate as she used to be. The company is innovating like a house afire. Or let’s turn the metaphor around: With the house of print burning down, The Times is quickly building something new, hoping to have a permanent place to live in the digital age.

The innovation is necessary. After all, print advertising — the lifeblood of The Times — has long been in decline. Last year, in a major milestone, consumer revenue (mostly from print and digital subscriptions) surpassed advertising revenue, both digital and print. In the old days, print advertising alone brought in about 80 percent of all Times revenue.

The old business model is fading, and the new one hasn’t quite arrived. The Times is journalistically strong and is profitable, but its future is far from certain. As necessary as innovation is, it comes with risks — ethical risks, journalistic risks and, if those should be compromised, business risks.

Here is a look at what is happening, and some of the implications.
Continue reading.

I have no interest in going on an "Old Gray Lady Cruise" with Charles Blow or Thomas Friedman --- no matter how vehemently Ms. Sullivan pitches these as "ethically sound."

Other than that, all this "innovation" is about finding new advertising revenue (IMHO). I don't know, but I'd bet the Times might want to think about tightening up its paywall. This is the one newspaper I'd subscribe to if I couldn't navigate past the subscription barrier. But since the newspaper allows reading to access the site through Google and social media (like Twitter), I simply cut and paste articles into the Safari browser until articles load. I will continue to do that as long as it's an option. The Wall Street Journal also allows Google access to article behind the paywall. The tradeoff for publishers is to allow readers to access the papers through search and social sharing. But no doubt tighter paywalls would force people to pay to click. Other papers, like the Independent and Telegraph in the U.K., limit page views and then lock you out after you've maxed out. But I won't pay for those newspapers. On the other hand, the Los Angeles Times also slams the door once you've reached your monthly limit. Google is no help, but I'm a print subscriber so I'm able to read unlimited articles.

If a newspaper is good people will pay to read it. And as the markets continue to consolidate there will be a winnowing of the main sources of news that people will pay to read. This is the demographic that the New York Times needs to attract --- those who will pay. So, start by thinking about who's paying for the product. Increase those revenues along with advertising and I expect the model will be sustainable over the long term.