Category Archives: NY Times

The NY Times’ $240 differential price


Here’s a curious approach to guarding margins. The New York Times is offering readers of its web site a special new way to view the newspaper on computers. “Times Reader” provides an iPad-type layout, with better graphics, intuitive swooping between pages, even an interactive crossword puzzle.

Catch is this costs $240 a year.

This is a classic example of differential pricing — the concept of charging different customers differently. It’s not unfair, rather a clever strategy to maximize revenue and margins. You see the inverse at grocery stores, where check-out clerks hand you coupons as you walk out the door. Some people, pinching pennies, will come back in with the coupon a week later and buy a can of soup for 50 cents off. You, likely in a hurry, won’t bother and will pay 50 cents more for the same chicken noodle broth. Because the “value” of the product varies for two people, the soup company has succeeded in charging two different people two different prices for the same good — maximizing its money while making you both happy. It’s a question germane to most businesses: How can we charge the customers who value us the most more for our service, while keeping everyone happy? By adding some minor differentiation (a la Times Reader) and letting customers self-select into the more costly service, you’ve built a path to higher profits.

There are readers out there who love the Times who might enjoy the slick layout, and if they haven’t sprung $500 for an iPad yet, this is the only way they’ll get it. Of course, at $20 a month, save your money and you can buy an iPad in about two years.

What to make of NYT’s millionth mobile user

Finance guys are fun to watch because they bet real money on their predictions, so it’s notable that Seeking Alpha believes The New York Times Company stock is headed up due to mobile usage. Alpha suggests there are now more than 1 million people who read NYT via handsets every month, and that the scaling trend line could take NYT’s total web traffic from 28 million monthly users today to 70 million by 2015.

There are implications in the logic, of course. Alpha’s calculation is based on 106 million mobile page views in June and a guess that the average mobile user reads 100 pages a month. If the real answer is 200 pages per user — say, 6 per day — 1 million mobile users is now 500,000. Second, the NYT mobile app has been downloaded 4.5 million times — so even if the real mobile readership is 1 million per month, that’s only 22% of app-grabbers who find the Times intriguing enough to engage via mobile. Third, the iPhone, and now the iPad, are driving bursts in experimentation by consumers who download apps … but there is always a falling usage pattern over time. Given the comical missed forecasts of mobile advertising revenues, the jury’s still out on whether mobile adoption among marquee web sites will really scale.

Image: i_follow

Newport newspaper spanks readers for using web


All newspapers are struggling to find the right new pricing model as readers flock to the internet, where ad revenue is far less than that of print editions. Now the craziest idea appears from The Newport Daily News of Rhode Island. The Daily News has announced it will charge $145 a year for a print subscription, $245 a year if you want both print and access to their web site, and $345 a year if you want just the web site.

Um. That’s right. You pay a $100 penalty if you want to read Newport news only on the web. Jim Brady, former executive editor of the WashingtonPost.com, says the model reeks of desperation:

“Newport’s strategy suggests it believes it can drive people away from its own web site and back to the newspaper. And maybe it can — for a few years. But as future generations continue to abandon print, this strategy will reveal itself to be short-sighted. By penalizing people who only want to use the paper’s web site, the Daily News is likely guaranteeing itself future irrelevancy.”

We respect the challenge, because even the big boys are in trouble. Back in January Michael Hirschorn wrote in The Atlantic that The New York Times, $1 billion in debt with only $46 million in cash reserves, still had no pricing strategy to deal with consumers rushing online. About 1 million people read the Times print edition each day vs. 20 million online — yet the print version generates the lion’s share of revenues, and if the paper stuff were shut down, web revenue would support only 20% of the current Times staff. NYT has toyed with charging online subscriptions to backfill the holes in online revenue, but keeps backing away, fearful that its web readers might do the same.

Good luck, Newport. But rest assured, we won’t be reading you online.

NYT needs new computers, but does the future?


We’ve been wondering when computer technology will tap out. This seems counterintuitive, since we all chase the new shiny thing and programs continue to strain old systems and Moore’s law is still chugging, but really — what do you do other than type at work and play with photos or video? Intel and computer makers have moved away from the chip-speed claims of the 1990s, where every six months PCs seemed obsolete when a faster microprocessor hit the market. Now, today, do you even know what your computer processor clock speed or bus speed are? Do you care?

When things become commodities, prices fall. In the future companies might give away laptops or cell phones, making plug-ins to the internet and cloud software systems as common as the electrical outlets on the wall in your home. Devices would shift in two directions: disposable — plastic tossaways that get you online for a while — and luxury, the future Apple titanium shells you might still buy and flash as a signal that you’re wealthy, intellectual, or ready to mate.

When glass panels are all around us and we have instant always-on access to a virtual world, hardware makers may go the way of the buggy-whip. Marketing will change, too — the one-thousandfold increase in content means advertisers might have no way of reaching consumers, unless they buy access to individuals. You could end up with your own CPM — a unique price on your head for advertisers to buy not media, but just you.

In this future world, you would be the center of the marketing universe, surrounded by free panels that take you where you want to go. Advertisers will have to be personal and relevant to get your attention, because otherwise they will never intercept you. Mass marketing will be dead.

Hopefully by then The New York Times will have new computers.

NYT retouches Polaroid


Remember the days before Photoshop? When the photo you snapped was what you got? NYT reports Polaroid, bumping through bankruptcy, may be reborn in the Netherlands as a group of investors takes over an abandoned factory. The crux of it all is Polaroid SX 70 and 600 series film, required to make those sliding squares pop out of the instant cameras and about to go the way of dinosaurs, may come back.

The resurrection appears not done yet, so NYT is rallying a movement by inviting readers to email old Polaroid snaps (via scan, or photo of the photo) to pix@nyt.com. This should be fun.

True/Slant gets funky with the ad integration

If Facebook, Digg and The New York Times had a drunken ménage à trois, their lovechild might look like True/Slant, a new web journalism model lauded in a puff piece by Walt Mossberg of WSJ.com. The concept is simple: Journalists write; readers comment to push up articles and their own personal fame; and advertisers get to write their own pages, too. The site is heavy-up with skilled authors formerly of NYT, Financial Times and Rolling Stone, but it’s the ad integration that has Walt Mossberg buzzing.

Walt notes: “In a highly unusual move, the site plans to offer advertisers their own entire pages where they can run blogs and try to attract a network of followers. These will have the same design and features of the journalists’ pages, but will be labeled as ad content.” It’s actually brilliant integration — the ad content looks the same with the heft as the real articles, but the clear distinction — both in labeling and in author — prevents the gray shadiness that creeps into blogs that are paid posts. True/Slant keeps the journalists separate, but as their individual rankings rise, they get a cut of the advertising they attract — thus they are inspired to write better authentic content, which in turn will attract more eyeballs and clearly defined advertisers.

We like it. Now if only someone would clean up the layout.

NYT’s future model? We suggest it’s not personalization.


Jason Moriber has been writing insightfully about what might save The New York Times, including personalization. We debated this on his blog and are replaying it for your amusement.

Jason:

Beyond the ongoing debate over what will eventually happen to newspapers I feel there needs to be some quick pragmatic thinking on what can be done “now.” The quickest changes can be made to print-media’s online sites.

Show me the static content for free. I’ll pay you for the active content … Offer me something you can’t get anywhere else but online – my behavior and my preferences. Don’t sell my data to marketers, sell it to me! Mix the available content and data with my behavior, let me set a few preferences, and you have a paid model.

Me:

Very interesting ideas. I debate, though, whether personalization is enough to build a subscription base or loyalty. The idea of 1to1 marketing has been around since Don Peppers in 1991 and never seems to make it as a real business model; Netflix and Amazon try and still fall far short.

The problem is the switching costs to find relevant information are now so low, that as soon as NYT charges – I’ll fly somewhere else, where the same quality content can be had for free.

What I might pay for though is access to the minds of the people writing the stories. Imagine spending $20 a month to be able to converse with the top technology writers at NYT, or perhaps a club of similar top readers interested in the topic. But even that is a tough sell given the ease of setting up other social networks.

The truth is that the content we all love so dear has become a commodity. There is only so much demand; the supply has become almost infinite; as the quantity of supply moves farther and farther to the right on a classic supply-and-demand curve, the price of the good (content) must fall. I suggest that there have always been millions of brilliant minds in the human population out of the billions on the planet; journalism in the past limited our access to these minds, so we perceived that NYT and other top papers had the “few” people needed worth spending to see. But now that I can find you, or anyone else I deem smart or wise or reporting real news that I find useful, I can flow to this huge real supply of intelligence. The profits disappear as the friction between content supply and demand are gone.

As far as the solution? The only one I can see is for the current knowledge empires like NYT to become nonprofits, lock in their brand, and admit that advertising or subscription revenues will no longer be enough for them to survive. Knowledge, like data, has always wanted to be free.

NY Times: All the news you can’t see below this ad


The New York Times revised its web site today to make room for a new ad format that takes up one-third of the visual real estate. First up, Apple, with big sound, crayonish animation and flipping pages. We asked our colleague Jim Knipper, an internet display guru, for the technical term. “That’s called a big-ass ad,” Jim said.

The trend continues NYT’s stretch to sell more of its sacred news space — back on Jan. 5 NYT sold ads on the cover of its print paper for the first time. We’re conflicted. From a media buy, the new, large, beautiful formats are sure to get noticed. But as a news consumer, the only next step we see in making these ads more intrusive is if they give us electric shocks as we sit in front of our keyboard or flip through the paper. As news organizations lose traffic and ad revenue to the web, and then within the web lose even more to the long tail of niche web sites and consumer-generated content, they must try new tricks to keep advertisers engaged.

So bully for you, Apple. Now where did we put that news?

New York Times sells the cover


Call it a sign of the Times.

Today The New York Times began running full-page horizontal display ads on page A1. USA Today started the trend years ago when it stuck small display boxes at the top of inside sections for advertisers such as Northwest Airlines. Most editors have resisted this, especially on the front page, the most hallowed ground for top editorial stories. But with NYT revenue down 13.9 percent in November from the year prior, readers bailing and advertisers retrenching in the recession, it’s natural that NYT would consider selling more space.

This doesn’t always work so well. Front-page ad placement comes at a premium, and when our agency has tracked the actual responses from front-page banner ads for clients, we found that consumer responses often don’t keep up. Large papers typically require 13-, 26- or 52-week commitments for Page 1 display ads, making such visibility a bit of a risky proposition.

Any advertiser considering such placement would be well advised to install a measurement system to track responses from each individual ad. It’s the only way to evaluate whether what feels good — being next to the major news — ends up as a good customer report.

NYT tries to save your source material


And now let’s think about the big hole in our modern information society: Source documents. Google does a lot of things, but it doesn’t index the interviews or hardcopy legal documents or scribbled notepads that are the source of your online knowledge.

The New York Times and ProPublica plan to “launch an online repository of primary-source documents,” according to the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. A NYT grant application, submitted to the Knight News Challenge, notes, documents are the foundation of investigative journalism, but today’s newsroom is a throwaway culture. Too often, reporters gather reams of information, do their stories, then chuck rich source documents into a dusty corner, never again to see the light of day.

The DocumentCloud would let any news group upload source materials for public review, and potentially be expanded to include non-official news sources, say, you there, writing your blog. As the public struggles to validate the knowledge they find online, indexing actual source documents seems like a fine idea.

For a look at the power of source documents, check out the transcript of the NYT interview with Senate candidate Caroline Kennedy. It’s more illuminating than any possible reporter’s revisions.

Photo: S.C. Asher