I read an article over at Mashable today, labelled New York Times Will Go Out of “Print” Sometime in the Future, which should come as no surprise, as most newsprint is likely to be extinct within a couple of decades, probably sooner. The “Gray Lady” will no longer be a physical newspaper, according to NYT’s publisher and chairman Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. And furthermore:

“We will stop printing the New York Times sometime in the future, date TBD,” he said to attendees of the International Newsroom Summit.

That is all as one might expect. After all, we no longer use black and white TV’s, do we?

The really baffling thing about the New York Post however, is how, with the Internet edition’s sky-rocketing traffic figures, it should be possible to generate respectable revenues, wouldn’t you think? Sadly, that isn’t so. Or, again, to quote Mashable:

[…] it’s taken most news outlets quite a bit of time to come around to the realization that print isn’t the be-all-end-all of journalism. By delaying innovation, many publications have put themselves in financially dire straits while scrambling to catch up with web-friendly revenue models.

This particular newspaper has flirted with various revenue models for online content over the past several years. Readers will be subject to a metered paywall beginning next year.

[…]

NYTimes.com had previously toyed with another paywall-type mode, called TimesSelect, around three years ago. The change wasn’t as lucrative as the paper had expected; still, Sulzberger sees the experiment as educational, not necessarily a failure.

In response to my assertion the other day, that more online newspapers should try NYT’s formula for success, the CEO of Norway’s leading online tabloid, VG Nett, told me that “NYT is extraordinarily boring to look at, and unprofitable to boot,” which, ties in nicely with the information shared by Mashable (above). That said, I can’t help concluding that they must do something right, producing this kind of statistics:

ComScore July 2010

Dagbladet.no front

Detail from Dagbladet.no's frontpage.

You don’t get that kind of figures if you’re “extraordinarily boring”. The VG Nett CEO is right though: NYT has proven itself utterly unprofitable, but ask yourself, if you love good journalism, which do you prefer, the NYT way or the Norwegian model (Norwegian tabloid Dagbladet.no, see screendump to the left)? The latter characterised by an extremely cluttered use of (huge) photographs and (equally huge) ads. Looks like the advertiser’s own website, doesn’t it, with a bit of news squeezed in on the middle.

I’m really sorry, but that really doesn’t cut it. With me, anyway. Then again, the difference between Norwegian online dailies and the New York Times is enormous. Looking at the NYT again, you have to admit there’s plenty of room for a few more ads. Don’t tell me that the advertisers aren’t interested in reaching 32 million unique users a month!

Remember when Salon.com launched their freemium model back in the 1990′s? Apparently quite a few of the magazine’s loyal readers were quite prepared to pay not to see the paid-for splash screen. I didn’t count myself among them, living by the maxim Information wants to be free, but I really didn’t mind the ads. You really can’t if you want it to stay that way. It would seem, though, that the New York Times is opposed to the cluttered appearance of Norwegian news sites, for which you really cannot blame them, but to think that this will save “The Gray Lady”:

The New York Times on an iPad

Sorry, Mac (pun partly intended)… I don’t buy into that either. Norway’s equivalent to New York Times, former broadsheet Aftenposten, degenerated to a tabloid over the last decade, seems to believe there’s future in the iPad. According to editor-in-chief Hilde Haugsgjerd today,

[…] By charging a user fee from day one, we break the Internet dailies’ trend. The product will have a whole different set of qualities, and we are convinced that the advertisers are willing to pay more – for instance by enabling them to buy fullpage ads, Ms Haugsgjerd explains.

— My translation

Oy vey… We’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we.

But I can tell you this much: There’s absolutely no reason why New York Times shouldn’t succeed with a free Internet edition, with a free iPad edition, for that matter. If they are willing to let the advertisers in.

Top photograph: The New York Times headquarters. Photographer: Haxorjoe/Wikipedia

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2 Responses to How could NYT possibly fail?

  1. Jarle,

    Even though the “norwegian model” when it comes to design isn’t to everyone’s taste, there are a couple of things NYT and others could have learned from Scandinavia if you go back a few years.

    Having a good product is most important: Early on we started producing content tailored for the web; most newspapers abroad simply recycled content from the printed edition. That just doesn’t make a great web experience.

    When it comes to monetizing an online newspaper, the simplistic ad models we created in the early 2000′s was crucial. Strangely, outside of Norway of Sweden no one seemed to think likt this:

    1) We made ads big enough so that material from the printed edition could be reused online. Remember, this was in a time when advertising agencies had no web experience.
    2) We focused on making technologies for taking care of ordering, etc., for advertisers that didn’t have systems like these themselves. That was true for most of them; some of them didn’t even have web sites.

    And most importantly:

    3) We made ad buying easy and easy to understand. Instead of adapting the “rational” ad models trumpeted by Google et al, we did it the old fashioned printed way: You buy this space in this section for 24 hours for this amount of money. For people used to buying print this was easy to understand, buying page views they may or may not see was not.

    Models have become more complicated today, as has the ad formats. But that was the simple start. Everyone standardized formats too soon, they used ad networks instead of training in house sales staff, and they foolishly believed that the page view or CPC was the way to go. (Strange as it may seem, this simple way is still popular today)

    In my opinion these errors keep holding many newspapers back online today too.

  2. Hello again Jo Christian,

    Make no mistake about it: Actually I salute your financially sound approach to revenues, and indeed your ability to tailor news fitting web-based platforms, and can’t say I blame you for exploring new avenues, in lieu of the exhausted www. There’s very little doubt, also, that Scandinavian (in all humbleness; Norwegian) online dailies have found themselves at the very vanguard, technologically – which, of course, isn’t necessarily to say that it’s been adding to the journalism’s quality, in its own right.

    Arguably, we all perceive these things differently. Where some appreciate the informative quietness of content-focused news, preferably in sober black and white, others pay more attention to the presentation, which is where the Norwegian newspapers actually have potential to excel, but in my opinion fail to do so. Again, it’s a matter of taste. I am sure you have seen dilettantes going completely off their hinges, exploiting every possible animation and 3D effect available to them in Powerpoint (for which I stand corrected, re above home-made chart). By comparison, some newspapers seem to demonstrate just that kind of enthusiasm towards the available CSS/Flash/Video opportunities, combined with a maximisation of the improved screen resolutions, offering an opportunity to crowd the screens with monstrous imagery and a cacophony of ads resembling the Piccadilly Circus at night. That said, I must congratulate you on your last makeover, after over a decade with a layout optimised for olden days’ 640×480 resolutions (a slight exaggeration, I know, but please indulge me). Huge improvement, even though I understand you’re at it again.

    Please forgive my scepticism. In some ways we live in different worlds; You catering to the commercial, and, I dare say, technological side of things, I to the self-righteous, sometimes all-too-haughty old-school journalism (in spite of 15 very active years online). But even a journalist needs to realise that his livelihood depends on revenues. Embarking on the so-called “new” media, practising journalism for income’s sake, rather than providing income for journalism’s sake however, is nothing short of appalling. In all honesty, I think it right to assert that the media debate these days revolves around one matter: revenues. It’s sad, in my view, that journalism itself has taken the back seat completely. But hey, that’s me.

    Oh, before I have to dash: As you may already have surmised, I take delight in Dagsavisen’s general interface. As a source of news, on the other hand, they suck big time, of course. Just to think what they could have been, if the content corresponded with the presentation.

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