The news just keeps getting better at The New York Times and the Financial Times, as new numbers indicate that paywalls really work if you’re among the most respected news organizations in the world.

The FT reported that it has breached the 250,000 subscriber mark, having grown digital subscriptions 30% during the last year. The FT charges about $390 for an annual subscription to its website, which would indicate total digital subscription revenues of nearly $100 million if everyone was paying the full annual price. However, the actual total is almost certainly lower than that, since print subscribers pay discounted fee and not all subscriptions are annual. However, the performance is still impressive. The FT said 100,000 of those subscriptions are from corporations.

NetProspex Social Business ChartThe Times is confident enough in its paywall experiment to declare victory and begin branding itself as a social media poster child. Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger took the stage at the London School of Economics last week to crow about a report by lead mining firm NetProspex that declares that the Times is the number one most social company in the U.S., based upon the total number of employees using social media and their fan/follower reach. Sulzberger said the designation recognizes the success of individual employees, such as Nicholas Kristof and C.J. Chivers, at building their own social followings.

“In 2000, we were #3 in terms of uniques behind the Washington Post and USA Today,” Sulzberger said.  “Today we’re proudly the #1 newspaper website, with a worldwide audience of over 45 million uniques…and that’s after we started asking readers to pay for unlimited access to our content.” The Times’ aggressive adoption of Twitter, in particular, has paid off in word-of-mouth awareness. Sulzberger said a Times story is now tweeted every four seconds.

Read a transcript of his comments for more examples. Note, in particular, the emphasis on “digital first,” and the speed with which the Times is creating hash tags and real-time Twitter feeds to lead the conversation on breaking news. Sulzberger also has some interesting points about the reading habits of mobile users and how they differ from those of traditional print subscribers. The ability to “literally get into bed” with readers is an opportunity to expand the Times’ franchise, not simply an adjunct to the print product.

The good news continues overseas, where News International reported a 10% increase in digital subscriptions to the Times and Sunday Times over the past three months to a total of more than 111,000. The company said it would start reporting monthly digital subscription updates, indicating confidence that the number will grow.

Does this mean paywalls are the answer to the industry’s woes? We’ll believe that when we start hearing similar success reports coming from major metro dailies that aren’t The New York Times or that don’t deliver high-value financial news. For now, publishers can take some comfort in the fact that the hemorrhaging appears to be under control. Print circulation is actually growing in emerging markets like Latin America and Southeast Asia, and North American advertising revenues actually were up slightly last year.

Nonprofits Gain Traction

Into the Wild - Knight FoundationNonprofit news organizations are some of the most promising candidates to replace the investigative journalism that’s been lost to cost-cutting in mainstream media, but one of the keys to success is to go beyond simply filling that gap. That’s according to an impressive new report from Knight Foundation, co-authored by our good friend Michelle McLellan, that looks at critical success factors for nonprofit success.

Poynter’s Rick Edmonds has an excellent summary of the study, which looked at the business models of seven promising local ventures, ranging from the ambitious Texas Tribune to the much smaller, hyperlocal St. Louis Beacon. While none has reached self-sustainability just yet, these startups are learning tactics that can serve as a model to others.

The report cites three “next-stage” opportunities, but they can really be boiled down to one truth: Go beyond replacing the newspaper model. Successful ventures are leveraging the unique advantages of online media to deliver information that can’t be expressed in print, such as databases and first-person video. That means hiring technology and data analysis specialists, not just reporters. The featured nonprofits are also diversifying their income streams beyond a few big foundations to include paid memberships, syndication fees, events and sponsorships.

Knight’s study is an encouraging sign that investigative journalism will not perish from the earth, and may even be reborn in a smaller, focused and more-efficient form.

Go Google+

Has your news organization registered its Google+ page yet? Better hurry. Google opened up its rapidly growing social network to company pages on Monday, and news operations like The New York Times have already staked a claim (tagline: “All the News That’s Fit to +”). Even if you have no immediate plans to build a Google+ outpost yet, you want to be sure to grab your brand before somebody else does. As many businesses learned with Twitter, failing to register accounts on new social networks can create an embarrassing situation when others begin speaking on your behalf.

The New York Times released quarterly earnings that indicated that is paywall is working. The report is the first to give some indication of incremental subscriber growth beyond the initial surge of sign-ups that came when the paywall went up in March. It shows that more than a quarter million people are now paying at least the $15 minimum fee. Even better is that traffic to the NYT.com website is actually up 2% from a year ago.

“The Times has created the perfect paywall,” writes Ryan Chitturn on Columbia Journalism Review. “It’s getting tens of millions of dollars from hardcore readers while letting in enough Google traffic and casual readers to continue boosting its online readership and collecting ad revenue off of those eyeballs.”

Chitturn estimates that the Times will take in about $63 million in digital subscriber revenue this year and more than $210 million in total digital revenue. That’s more than it costs to operate the newsroom. Which means that The New York Times could theoretically get out of the print business entirely and still make money.

New York Times Paywall

Does that mean it’s time for everyone to jump into the pool? Bill Mitchell thinks so. Writing on Poynter.org, he tells of moderating a panel at the World Editors Forum in which publishers who had taken the paywall plunge spoke of their initial trepidation and then relief when the steep declines in traffic that they had feared failed to materialize. Traffic to the Berliner Morgenpost has actually doubled since it put up a paywall in late 2009.

Mitchell quotes The New York Times’ Jim Roberts saying the wall has had a morale dividend. “There is more of an investment I feel in the newsroom among our journalists since the introduction of the paywall. They feel a greater stake in the product,” he said.

Perhaps the time is right. The Newspaper Association of America reports that traffic to newspaper websites jumped 20% in September compared to a year ago among the coveted adult demographic. “Average daily visits were up 21%; total pages viewed were up 10%; total minutes spent were up 11 %; and unique visitors were up 9 %,” the NAA reported.

Thus the great paradox continues. Newspapers are more popular than they’ve ever been, but the business model is broken beyond repair. The NAA numbers are encouraging, and perhaps indicates a flight to quality among readers who are fed up with social media noise. For the past five years people have been  publishing all kinds of nonsense online because they could. Now the novelty is wearing off and quality is becoming a differentiation point.

Google’s new Panda search algorithm is supposed to be a game changer in its ability to distinguish quality content from crap. We noted recently that Demand Media, which specializes in crap, has had to remove 300,000 articles from its website because Google won’t pay attention to them anymore. And the world hardly noticed.

The fact that newsrooms turn out a good product has never been debatable, but the idea that people who had been accustomed to getting it for free for 15 years would decide to pay for it is still an open question.

Give credit to the early adopters for fine-tuning the balance of free vs. paid content to achieve some success. The idea is to grant just enough access to entice readers to pay but not enough to give away the farm. The Wall Street Journal lets you read a couple of hundred words gratis but then wants a credit card. Perhaps it and the Times have figured out the formula.

We’ve been skeptical about paywalls for two years, but we’d be the first to cheer their success.  If they enable good journalism to flourish once again, we’re all for it.

Washington Post Co. Holds Out

Katharine WeymouthApparently the Washington Post Co. isn’t convinced. Publisher Katharine Weymouth was quoted in Politico last week saying that paid subscriptions don’t make sense for the Post at the moment. The newspaper’s philosophy is that its website should be “open to everybody and attract as many people as we can to spend as much time as they can with our journalism, and assume that that will bring them back for more.”

Politico points out that the Post has hardly been a beacon of publishing success lately. It has shed more than 45% of its newsroom staff and it just last month announced plans to close nine of its 11 suburban regional bureaus. The Post Co. does have a couple of things going for it, however, including its profitable Kaplan education division and its phenomenal 30% market penetration. You’d think a market share like that would be an incentive to charge more for the product, but Weymouth seems in no hurry. She isn’t ruling out a paywall but says she’s content to wait and see what works.

“They Won’t Invest in You”

Invantory is developing software tools to help people sell things. It wants to be kind of an alternative to Craigslist, with a mobile twist. The founders thought newspaper publishers would be potential customers, because they already know the classified advertising business and they have a desirable channel. But Invantory gave up on doing business with newspaper publishers. The principal reason: their computer are a mess.

“Newspapers’ online technology platforms [are] not standard,” wrote co-founder Ian Lamont on the Invantory blog. “This means that non-trivial integration work is required for practically any new feature or service, whether created in-house or purchased from a vendor. There are dozens of online content management systems (CMS) in use, most heavily customized.”

In other words, any chance newspaper publishers might have to federate their once-highly profitable classified advertising businesses into a network that could compete with Craigslist is undercut by technology decisions made years ago and incompatibilities perpetuated by customization.

The Invantory co-founders met with Newsosaur Alan Mutter at the New England Newspaper Publishers Association. Mutter, who himself tried to start a business to service newspaper publishers a couple of years ago, told them to forget about pursuing a model based up on serving the dying newspaper industry. “VCs with any experience won’t invest in you,” he said.

Miscellany

The i newspaper celebrated its first anniversary this week, challenging the conventional wisdom that print dailies are dead. The commuter-friendly daily, which delivers news in bite sized nuggets, has succeeded in building a paid circulation of 184,000 during its first year. And it’s reportedly profitable, too.


“Data journalism,” in which reporters mine public information to discover nuggets of news, is an increasingly popular discipline. Editors Weblog has a list of free tools anybody can use to become a data journalist.

By Paul Gillin | October 12, 2011 - 10:29 am - Posted in Best/Worst, Business News, Journalism, Layoffs, Newspapers, OnlineMedia, Paywalls

Craig DubowGannett CEO Craig Dubow (right)  resigned last week for health reasons, saying that back and hip problems prevent him for fulfilling his duties. He leaves a job that could pay him as much as $9.4 million this year, but don’t feel too bad for Dubow: He’s eligible for severance pay of up to $37 million.

The irony of this kind of executive compensation for a company that has laid off nearly 40% of its workforce over the last six years isn’t lost on former New York Times columnist Peter Lewis, who posts a savage send-up of Gannett’s extravagance on his blog. Lewis is particularly brutal in contrasting Dubow’s performance to that of Steve Jobs, who died last week:

Annual base pay: Steve Jobs $1. Craig Dubow $1.2 million.

Stock price during CEO tenure: Apple, up 4,000+ percent. Gannett, down 85 percent.

Job creation during CEO tenure: Apple, plus 28,000. Gannett: minus 20,000.

Notable new products as CEO of Apple: Macintosh, iMac, MacBook, iPod, iTunes, Apple Stores, iPhone, iPad, etc., etc.

Notable new products as CEO of Gannett: ?

Executive pay has been out of control at US companies for decades now, but the practice is particularly offensive at companies in dying industries that are downsizing their way out of existence. Is it conceivable that a talented and motivated executive could be found to lead Gannett at a salary of less than $9 million? How does a company look its employees in the eye and ask them to accept yet another layoff or salary freeze when it nearly doubled the salary of the head of its US newspaper division?

We might just go occupy Wall Street over this.

Open Source Journalism

Make MagazineNikki Usher and Seth C. Lewis dig into the application of open source software principles to journalism and find some parallels. “The news industry is one of the last great industrial hold-overs, akin to the car industry,” they write. “Newsrooms are top-heavy, and built on a factory-based model of production.” In contrast open source software and the so-called “maker” culture exemplified by Make magazine encourage collaboration, sharing and continuous experimentation.

Rethinking journalism requires time and open-mindedness that a lot of journalists might not have, but the power of the open source model can’t be denied. Usher and Lewis imagine a new role for journalists as creators of “the building blocks for the story. And while they write this code, it can be commented on, shared, fact-checked, or augmented with additional information such as photos, tweets, and the like.” Seems to work OK for Wikipedia. The Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership is working on ways to make this model viable. We hope they succeed.

Quality at 5¢ a Word

Demand Media, whose mission is to erase the distinction between journalism and typing, says it doesn’t need freelancers so much any more.  That’s because Google changed its search algorithm, and that means Demand’s editorial mission has shifted.

In case you’re not familiar, Demand Media employs freelance writers to churn out search-optimized content for posting on enormously popular websites like Cracked.com, LiveStrong.com and eHow.com. The company assigns stories based upon search popularity, meaning that it favors how-to and top-10 formats. A perfect Demand story would be “10 Ways to Remove Coffee Stains.”

Demand is noted for paying freelancers next to nothing while touting the benefits of brand-building and flexibility. “No matter where you end up, you have the potential to influence millions of people with your articles,” says its Writing Jobs page. Writers can make up to $25 an article, or even more! With so many journalists out of work, Demand has succeeded in a recruiting a large pool of contributors, despite its starvation wages.

But apparently not so much now. Google is on a campaign to remove the stuff that these content farms churn out, so the company is shifting to slide shows and videos. Demand says it has eliminated 300,000 low-quality articles from eHow and is focusing on going upscale. “It’s all about quality for us,” said Chief Revenue Officer Joanne Bradford. At a nickel a word.

It’s Not a Paywall, It’s…

Paywalls continue to sprout like crabgrass, but publishers are beginning to show some creative thinking. The Day of New London, Conn. will now charge between $9.99 and $22.99 per month for access to its online content, archives and mobile versions, but subscribers will also become part of a brand loyalty program called The Day Passport, “which features rewards, events and giveaways to local businesses, entertainment venues and cultural institutions.” We were pushing this idea two years ago. Publishers need to expand their revenue base beyond advertising and subscription fees. Affinity programs for local businesses are a natural extension.

We also like what the Richmond Times-Dispatch is doing: Instead of firewalling its content, it’s creating premium content packages such as this one on the Civil War sesquicentennial. The Civil War feature combines historic pages from the newspaper archive with original new material. Pricing begins at $1.99/month, though it’s not clear what other premium packages are planned. We like the concept the concept of charging for added value, and we’re particularly glad to have the chance to use the word “sesquicentennial” in a sentence.

By Paul Gillin | August 16, 2011 - 6:47 am - Posted in BusinessModel, Demographics, Future of Journalism, Journalism, Local news, Newspapers, Paywalls

Tool boothThe Helena (Mont.) Independent Record just introduced a subscription plan for digital customers. Here’s how the paper describes it:

We will not be charging to view the following content online: the front page, classifieds, all advertisements and advertising promotions, special sections, auctions, community calendar or customer service pages.

Webpages that will be charging for viewership – after 15 free views per month – are local, state, national and world news pages; local and regional sports; news accessed by Facebook and Twitter; opinion pages; obituaries; entertainment (except AP wire); health, outdoors, weddings, anniversaries; births, lottery; weather; archives; comments; photo galleries and videos.

A monthly online subscription is $4.99; if you have a print subscription, your online subscription is only $1.99 per month. An annual online subscription is $49.99 per year; or if you have a print subscription, it is only $19.99.

Got all that? Better keep a pen and paper handy, because once you get to those 15 views, get out the credit card. That is, unless you’re reading the front page or a “special section,” whatever that is. And forget about the kind of free pass from Twitter that The New York Times gives you. Social media referrals count toward the 15-ppm limit.

In Hawaii, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser has joined the paywall parade. Here’s how PaidContent.org described its plan:

Existing print subscribers get free digital access. Non-print subscribers can either sign up for an “all-access” package for $19.95 per month, which includes digital access and a print subscription for one person, or purchase a digital-only subscription—the price of which varies based on location.  Oahu residents pay $9.99 per month or $50 per year; other Hawaii residents pay $4.95 per month or $25 per year, and those outside the state of Hawaii pay $1.95 per month or $10 per year. The site is also offering a $0.99 day pass, primarily aimed at tourists and former tourists who are interested in specific events.

Clear enough? If you really want to know what’s going on in Hawaii, you’re best off moving out of state. God forbid you’re unlucky enough to live in the newspaper’s home city.

One more example, from the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle:

Digital-only subscribers get unfettered access to our site for $6.95 per month. This subscription fee will include the iPad app as well. Current print subscribers pay a reduced rate of only $2.95 to add these services…Passers-by and casual readers still will have access to breaking news, video, photos and blogs. We also will allow all users access to 25 premium pages monthly as a sample.

With 46% of small newspapers already charging for some online content, and another 39% planning to do so, the online news world will soon be pockmarked with digital toll booths, each charging different fees. Even the major metros can’t agree on a plan. PaidContent.org assembled a comparison chart of what the big papers are doing earlier this year. If you can find any patterns there, let us  know.

We’re not saying variety is a bad thing – lots of businesses compete on price – but when the product is already perceived as a commodity, then confusion tends to drive customers away. Small publishers evidently don’t see it that way, given the large number that are settling in the paywall camp these days. But are they growing their businesses or just trying to protect what’s left of them?

Mathew Ingram said it well in a recent piece in BusinessWeek:

The biggest flaw in a paywall isn’t that the math is questionable, or even that a wall is inherently a backward-facing strategy, aimed at stacking sandbags around a paper’s content…The biggest flaw…is that walling up your content is an invitation to free competitors…to come and take away your readers.

One of the major reasons the newspaper industry is in such dire straits right now is because barrriers to entry have collapsed. Paywalls are an invitation to competitors to take away all but the most loyal (i.e., oldest) readers. AOL’s Patch has recently opened an outpost in our home town, and we admire the work its tiny staff is doing to bring us news from around the corner that our regional daily doesn’t cover. Despite allegations of sweatshop-like working conditions at Patch, we believe AOL will have no trouble finding journalists to staff its local offices. Between Patch, labor-of-love sites like this one and an assortment of listservs and Facebook pages, we’re more aware of what’s going on in our community than we ever were when we subscribed to a daily.

We believe that paywalls can work if they are simple, transparent and perceived by the customer to be reasonably priced. There is room in the market for services that could federate many small publishers under a single subscription plan, and we expect some cohesion to emerge from the current mess.

Ultimately, though, paywalls will only work if the publishers who deploy them can deliver value their readers can’t get anywhere else. Can the newspaper owners holding the sandbags today honestly say they are doing that?

Miscellany

We’ve noted before the irony that editors who are so committed to hacking through everyone else’s hype roll over when the spin doctor is their own employer. The Orange (TX) Leader upholds that proud tradition in an un-bylined story announcing a reduction in its publishing schedule and the end of home delivery by news carriers.

Combining the Saturday and Sunday editions isn’t a cutback in frequency, but a reader service, said publisher Eric Bauer. “It will be available in the Saturday mail, so people will have more time to enjoy it,” he said. And editor Gabriel Pruitt is almost giddy about cutting frequency to thrice-weekly: “I could not be more proud and excited about how we will better serve this community…Readers can expect more in-depth stories, insightful information, photos and videos.”

The words “reduction,” “cutback” or “cost-cutting” don’t appear anywhere in the story. In fact, there’s no indication that the changes are anything but a reader service. We suspect that if the announcement was coming from the local public works department, it would be handled quite differently.


Print stalwarts will be relieved to hear that at least one major professional group is still committed to the supremacy of ink on dead trees: America’s school administrators. A recent survey conducted by The Haselton Group found that administrators prefer print editions of top trade magazines rather than online editions or e-newsletters from the same publications. Administrators get 45% of their industry-related information from printed trade magazines, “far outweighing the combined total of next three greatest sources: blogs, national newspapers and local newspapers.”

Administrators are joined in their loyalty by the many college journalism programs that are still teaching inverted pyramid style and how their students can find their first job on a daily.

Newspaper gag rules for social mediaShould journalists avoid expressing opinion in their social media comments for fear of calling their objectivity into question? Or is the myth of real objectivity finally being torn by a global conversation in which everyone is expected to weigh in with his or her views?

There’s a vigorous debate going on over at Gigaom about this subject. It was kicked off by a post by Mathew Ingram, who took issue with a social media policy recently installed at the Toronto Star that prohibits reporters from discussing stories in progress, commenting negatively upon their employer or colleagues or expressing any opinion that could raise questions about their objectivity.

Ingram thinks the policy is nuts, and the story’s headline – “Newspapers and Social Media: Still Not Really Getting It” – leaves no question that Ingram’s objectivity isn’t in doubt. We’re not so sure we agree with him.

We’ve written three books about social media, and we buy in fully to the idea that we are all better off when there is an open and free exchange of views about just about anything. However, a journalist’s ability to behave in an impartial manner – even if he or she has an opinion – is a core skill of the profession.

The issue isn’t whether people are biased or not: Everyone has opinions. It’s whether a professional journalist can put those opinions aside in the name of telling a story objectively. The ability to do that is essential to good journalism. It’s what enabled Alex Haley to draw a revealing interview out of American Nazi Party head George Lincoln Rockwell for a Playboy interview in 1966, despite the fact that Rockwell wouldn’t even look Haley in the eye during the session.

We frankly worry less about how opinions expressed on Twitter may raise doubts about a reporter’s impartiality in the minds of readers and more about how they may influence sources. Another core asset that professional journalists and media institutions bring to the table is access: They can reach people in the know because they’ve earned their trust. Revealing bias about an issue may influence a reporter’s ability to speak candidly to people who hold contrary opinions. That isn’t right, but it’s human nature.

Does this mean reporters shouldn’t engage in social media conversations? Of course it doesn’t. For one thing, the issue is situational. Sports and entertainment reporters for example, have more latitude to share their views than journalists covering a presidential campaign. And even a reporter covering Chicago City Hall probably isn’t going to do himself or his employer any damage by expressing a preference for the Cubs over the White Sox.

Then there’s the issue of language. It’s one thing to called Donald Trump “unconventional” or “controversial,” and quite another to refer to him as a “fruitcake.” Social media has become synonymous with rampant editorializing, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Journalists can add value to a discussion without using inflammatory words. In fact, a voice of reason is often a welcome respite from the flame throwing that characterizes many online debates.

As to the Star‘s prohibition on trashing coworkers or tipping one’s hand on a scoop, that strikes us as common sense. In any case, we suspect the management at the paper would consider the circumstances before taking action against an employee in that situation.

We’re curious about your views, particularly if you work for a media organization. Does your employer put strict limits on what you can say in social media, and if so does it enforce those rules? Let us know, and let’s have our own rational discussion.

Paywalls and Social Media

Mashable looks at three news organizations with paid subscription models and asks how they’re faring in social media. Paywalls are a problem in social channels because they go against the culture of free information exchange. Mashable’s Meghan Peters says encountering a truncated story on a link from Twitter or Facebook is an “unpleasant reader experience.” She talks to community managers at the Dallas Morning News, The Economist and the Honolulu Civic Beat.

Honolulu Civic Beat PaywallAll treat their social followings differently, but all are hyper-conscious of not delivering poor experiences to fans and followers. The Economist has actually made its paywall a bit more porous recently. Visitors can now read a limited number of articles each month, whereas previously the entire site was gated. The strategy has produced a surge in social media referrals, says the site’s community manager.

The Civic Beat has what we think is the most interesting strategy. The site is free to casual visitors at any time, but readers who return frequently are asked to subscribe. The timing of the paywall is based upon an algorithm that takes frequency and time spent on the site into account. “If you read a couple of times a week, it will take a while before we ask you to register,” says Dan Zelikman, the marketing and community host.

Miscellany

The New Zealand Press Association (NZPA) is closing after 132 years, apparently a victim to a major subscriber’s decision to go it alone. The NZPA is an agency that employs a staff of about 40 journalists and provides up to 1,000 news items to New Zealand’s news outlets each day. Until five years ago, the agency used an Associated Press-style model in which all New Zealand newspapers shared their content. More recently, it has focused on providing original reporting. The union that represents journalists in New Zealand said the closure was “a huge loss for journalism.”


With their ranks depleted by layoffs, media organizations are becoming appealing targets for pranksters with an agenda. Last week, a group called US Uncut, which describes itself as “a burgeoning grassroots movement pressuring corporate tax cheats to pay their fair share,” succeeded in taking in both USA Today and the Associated Press with a fake press release announcing that General Electric would donate its entire $3.2 billion tax fund to charity. The AP story that ran in USA Today is here. The stunt was pulled off with the assistance of Yes Lab, an organization that describes itself as “a series of brainstorms and trainings to help activist groups carry out media-getting creative actions.”

We expect we’ll see more stunts like these as media organizations continue to pare back on frivolous expenses like copy editing and fact-checking. We’re just waiting for the story about the Nigerian princes with the huge inheritance to share to hit The Wall Street Journal.

By Paul Gillin | March 29, 2011 - 6:41 am - Posted in Business News, BusinessModel, Circulation, Demographics, Newspapers, Paywalls, Solutions

The pundits (ourselves included) just can’t get enough of analyzing, trashing and otherwise second-guessing The New York Times‘ new online subscription plan. Here are some recent posts we noticed.

Steve Outing Pretty Much Trashes the NYT Paywall

For starters, it’s too expensive. The $15/mo minimum makes the Times all but inaccessible to cash-strapped young readers, which happen to be the people the paper most needs to engage. He also hates the defensive posturing publishers are using to justify subscription fees: “We need to do this to survive.”

Now THERE’s an incentive to customers to support you: Tell them if they don’t, you’re going to go out of business. How’s that working out for you, General Motors?

Outing points to the Times‘ own David Carr as the source of the right price: $4.99/mo. Respondents to Carr’s defense of the paywall plan posted on nytimes.com repeatedly refer to that fee as one they can swallow. Is anyone upstairs listening?

How To Hack the New York Times Paywall … With Your Delete Key

Mashable reports a new way to easily breach the paywall: “Readers need only remove “?gwh=numbers” from the URL. They can also clear their browser caches, or switch browsers as soon as they see the subscription prompt. All three of these simple fixes will let them continue reading.”

The NYT’s Melting Iceberg Syndrome

Frédéric Filloux suggests that The New York Times could improve its profitability by going to Sunday-only publication and forgetting about the other six days of the week, at least in print. “Sunday circulation is 54% higher than on weekdays…Sunday copy sales bring five times more money than any weekday…Some analysts say the Sunday NYT accounts for about 50% of the paper’s entire advertising revenue.”

If the Times could cut more than half its expenses by eliminating six days’ worth of print, it could theoretically make more money by publishing less frequently.

We also liked Filloux’ use of an iceberg as the analogy for a business that’s collapsing from within: “As an iceberg melts, the resulting change of shape can cause it to list gradually or to become unstable and topple over suddenly.” See any similarities to what’s happening to print?

A Big Op to Upgrade Op-Ed at New York Times

Alan Mutter believe the departure of Times columnists Frank Rich and Bob Herbert presents an historic opportunity for the Old Gray Lady to become the amazing technicolor dreamcoat of diversity of opinion. If Times‘ columnists are so smart, how come they missed the historic events going on the Middle East? Mutter asks. That’s what happens when your world is limited to Manhattan and the Beltway.

“Instead of dedicating the bulk of its limited and precious op-ed space to another generation of slightly more diverse Pooh-Bahs, the Times should publish the best of the online conversations in its print editions,” the Newsosaur recommends. That would be both good journalism and good promotion for the Time’s pricey paywall.

New York Times Digital Subscriptions: The Unofficial FAQ Updated

PaidContent.org has a useful rundown of the ins and outs of the Times‘ paywall, including pricing tiers, thresholds and platforms. Can you get a family account to nytimes.com? You’ll just have to read this FAQ to find out.

From the Onion: NYTimes.com’s Plan To Charge People Money For Consuming Goods, Services Called Bold Business Move

“In a move that media executives, economic forecasters, and business analysts alike are calling ‘extremely bold,’ NYTimes.com put into place a groundbreaking new business model today in which the news website will charge people money to consume the goods and services it provides.”

By Paul Gillin | March 23, 2011 - 4:49 am - Posted in Business News, Newspapers, OnlineMedia, Paywalls

It took The New York Times more than a year to design its paywall, and it took the rest of us about 24 hours to figure out ways around it. Ah, the wisdom of crowds.

The Times‘s paywall won’t go up in the U.S. until next week, but it’s already in full flower in Canada, where a programmer named David Hayes has come up with a bookmarklet that vaporizes the Javascript overlay that blocks a non-paying reader from accessing an article. Drag the “NYTClean” tool to your bookmark bar and click it when you want to read.Voilà. Read on to learn how it works.

The Times has also asked Twitter to disable an account someone created last week that uses the social media exemption in the paywall design to permit free access. The feed is called FreeNYTimes, but we don’t expect it to be around very long. The Times charges trademark infringement, which is pretty ridiculous, since someone will simply reconstitute the same idea under a different name. On the other hand, the Times had no alternative, since the account doesn’t violate any of its terms of service.

Joshua Benton dissects this emerging cat-and-mouse game, and also explains how Hayes’ workaround works. The Times chose a novel way to intercept and block visitors who exceed the limit of 20 free articles per month. Instead of denying them access to the content, the site covers the article with a Javascript overlay while leaving the full article visible but obscured in the background. Blocking Javascript is easy. In fact, browsers let you do it  by default. NYTClean basically strips some tags from the HTML source code that the browser sees so that the Javascript overlay doesn’t show.

The Twitter workaround is simpler and much tougher to prevent. It takes advantage of a unique provision in the Times‘ terms of service that permits links from social media sources to go around the paywall. The Times should be commended for acknowledging the importance of word-of-mouth marketing, but it also created a gaping hole in its revenue plan in the process.

Consider this: The entire contents of nytimes.com are available as RSS feeds, which presumably aren’t going away when the paywall goes up. Free services like Dlvr.it can take any RSS feed and deliver it through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Buzz and any number of other social outlets. All you have to do is purchase one free subscription, grab all the RSS feeds and syndicate them through the social network of your choice. Everyone in your circle can now share your subscription. That’s what @FreeNYTimes.com is doing. Anyone can do the same thing in about a half hour.

Which means that if the the Times’ sincerely wants to shut down rogue operations like @FreeNYTimes, it is buying into a giant whack-a-mole game. Except maybe the Times isn’t all that worried about those scallywags. Joshua Benton quotes Times executives as being concerned about violations, but not inclined to throw too many resources at preventing them. They say any preventive scheme will be defeated by a small number of geeks, but the vast majority of readers won’t go to the trouble of seeking out the workarounds. They’ll just shell out the $15-$35 per month. As Benton points out, it’s been possible to get the Wall Street Journal for free for years, but most people don’t go to the trouble.

It’s a balancing act for the Times. Make it too easy for operations like @FreeNYTimes to flourish and you undercut the revenue model of a subscription system that reportedly cost more than $30 million to build. Try to whack every mole and you end up employing armies of lawyers and people to track down violations. We’re sure there will be plenty more to report on this story.

By Paul Gillin | March 18, 2011 - 9:05 am - Posted in Business News, BusinessModel, Newspapers, OnlineMedia, Paywalls, Solutions

We were so choked with joy to finally read details of The New York Times‘ paywall plan, which was announced yesterday, that we didn’t quite know what to say. So we’ll let others do the talking:
“This is how it will work, and what it means for you:

  • On NYTimes.com, you can view 20 articles each month at no charge, [after which] we will ask you to become a digital subscriber.
  • On our smartphone and tablet apps, the Top News section will remain free of charge. For all other sections, we will ask you to become a digital subscriber.
  • The Times is offering three digital subscription packages that allow you to choose from a variety of devices.
  • All home delivery subscribers will receive free access to NYTimes.com and to all content on our apps.
  • Readers who come to Times articles through links will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit.
  • The home page at NYTimes.com and all section fronts will remain free.”

Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr.

New York Times paywall notice


On day one, at least, opinion on the web seems widely negative—although, perhaps it’s just that the angriest people are the ones that we tend to hear from first? The Guardian, whose management has long defended the free-for-all model, is conducting a poll on its website, asking readers about the Times online, ‘Will you become a subscriber?’ I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised that the ‘No, I’ll read my 20 free articles and move on’ would get a whopping 93 percent, with only 7 percent (as of this writing) voting for ‘Yes, its news and opinion are a must-have.’”

Columbia Journalism Review


“It’s a high price, a gamble, and a big hedge…against print subscribers migrating too quickly to the tablet. Since it is not charging print subs, it’s going to be an uphill battle to get non-print people to pay a minimum of $195 a year for something that was free, and it eschews conventional wisdom that $9.95 a month is a consumer limit on many digital items. The lack of an annual offer is glaring, and makes it far less friendly to expense accounts for business readers.”

Ken Doctor on Nieman


“An apparent (and likely very purposeful) loophole in The New York Times paywall plans: At least two of the newspaper’s home delivery subscription packages—which also come with unlimited access to the NYTimes.com website and apps—are cheaper than the “all digital access” subscription package.”

PaidContent.org


“This won’t work.”

Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing


“I suspect twenty free stories is too high, particularly when combined with the porous backdoor from social media. But it’s better to start off high and then gradually adjust it as the data comes in and you see what the effect is. And that’s a key thing to remember here: This is just a start.”

Columbia Journalism Review


“Nobody disputes the assertion that the Times cannot survive without increasing its revenues. Because I need the Times in my life—to read and to bitch about—I have no problem with the paper ejecting as many free-riders as necessary and soaking as many of the habituated (you’re looking at one) to make the paper prosper. So as we pick the mortar from the paywall and heave the loose bricks over the top at the Times noggins, keep this in mind: The pricing scheme and process by which the paper evicts its millions of squatters doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to increase revenues appreciably.”

Jack Shafer on Slate


“There’s a great big hole in that wall that the Times doesn’t mention in its FAQ or press release. According to sources close to the situation, the 20-story limit can be breached if you access the site from multiple devices, and/or if you delete your cookies. In other words, suppose you hit the wall on your PC. Then move to your laptop, where you’ll get another 20 stories. Delete your cookies on any computer, and the clock goes back to zero.”

Bill Grueskin on PaidContent.org


“We believe at least 500,000 people (or more than 10 percent of those heavy users) may be willing to pay up—and here’s how we get to that number…”

PaidContent.org


“Let’s say that realistically the NYT is going after a universe of no more than 800,000 people that it’s going to ask to subscribe. And let’s be generous and say that 15% of them do so, paying an average of $200 per year apiece. That’s extra revenues of $24 million per year. [That] is a minuscule amount for the New York Times company as a whole; it’s dwarfed not only by total revenues but even by those total digital advertising revenues of more than $300 million a year. This is what counts as a major strategic move within the NYT?”

Felix Salmon on Retuers


“We asked some of our favorite media thinkers…to weigh in on the model’s pricing, packaging, and more. (Also asked: Are you going to subscribe?) Here are reactions from Steven Brill, Steve Buttry, David Cohn, Anil Dash, Jason Fry, Dan Kennedy, Martin Langeveld, Megan McCarthy, Geneva Overholser, Jonathan Stray, and Amy Webb. And please do share your own thoughts and reactions, as well.”

Nieman Journalism Lab


Poynter’s Julie Moos aggregates some of the best tweets from journalists and people in Canada, where the paywall will be tested first.


The New York Times communications staff emailed out this slide deck to media writing about their new paywall plan. (And trust me, we’ve been writing about it.) The deck lays out the basics of the plan, but also gives an idea of the pitch is meant to read to advertisers and investors, not just readers.”

Nieman Journalism Lab

 


“How about this, New York Times: You bring back the ‘On Language’ column, and I’ll take out a digital subscription.”

John McIntyre


Readers who come to Times articles through Twitter will be able to read those articles, even if they have reached their monthly reading limit. A new Twitter account has been set up with the apparent intention of making most or all of the nytimes.com website available this way: @FreeNYT Everywhere


“[The plan is encouraging] for two main reasons: firstly, it recognizes the importance of distribution in online publishing. If you erect an arbitrary paywall, many people will not bother to link to you because they don’t want to frustrate their friends….Secondly, it recognizes that they need to balance quality with quantity. Online advertising has yet to settle into any sort of pattern, but metrics of engagement are rising in importance, and one of those metrics is how much traffic comes from recommendations, i.e. social media.”

Online Journalism Blog


“From my office in Cambridge, I created a new dummy nytimes.com account and logged onto a Canadian proxy — a server that allows you to appear to a website to be coming from somewhere you aren’t. Then I went a-click-click-clickin’ all over nytimes.com, hoping to run into the 20 article limit. When I hit No. 20, this popped up in the lower-left corner of my browser window:”

Joshua Benton on Nieman

TBD

...but apparently not TBD's future.

Wow, that was fast.

Just six months after it was launched as the most ambitious hyperlocal news operation in the US, Washington’s TBD has cut expenses deeply and narrowed  its mission to arts and entertainment. One third of the staff – or 12 employees – were let go this week. The apparent chaos at TBD is evidenced by the fact that general manager Bill Lord, who came on board just two weeks ago, said layoffs were only one of several options being contemplated at that time. Owner Allbritton Communications cited low traffic figures as the cause of the cutbacks. Considering that TBD racked up 6 million page views in January, it must have needed a lot of traffic to cover expenses.

The breathtaking speed with which Allbritton reined in the TBD venture shouldn’t be lost on other hyperlocal publishers. Alan Mutter sums up the difficulties that all such organizations face:

  • Small audiences are difficult to monetize in the first place;
  • Finding and converting advertisers to reach small audiences is expensive;
  • Advertisers are reluctant to spend a lot of money on online ads in general, particularly when the audiences are small.

Mutter calls AOL’s Patch.com, which now encompasses more than 800 hyperlocal sites, the next litmus test for the concept. AOL is reportedly spending $50 million on the venture, but the tone of Mutter’s analysis is that that money is probably wasted.

Keep reading, though,  if you want a different perspective. Nearly every one of the 20 or so people who weigh in on Mutter’s post disagree with him, some vehemently. They argue that hyperlocal news does work if publishers don’t get too greedy. Comment writers include several people who are successfully running the kind of small operations for which Mutter see so little hope.

“Hyperlocal is just a way of expressing the need for news that is more local, closer to the neighborhood or town level, than the metro daily ever could be,” notes  Jay Rosen. “And of course it corresponds to a class of advertiser that was priced out of and ill served by the metro daily and TV stations.”

Oscar MartinezAdds Oscar Martinez (left) of NeighborsGo, a successful hyperlocal venture by the Dallas Morning News, “If nothing else, [the Patch.com] effort should be applauded because the competition will remind newspapers that there IS money on the table and, more important, there’s still time to go after it.”  We interviewed Martinez more than 2 1/2 years ago, and his hyperlocal operation is still alive and kicking.

Our take: Mutter’s analysis is accurate, but publishers continue to debate the wrong thing. The issue isn’t whether there’s enough advertising out to fund a lot of successful hyperlocal ventures; there probably isn’t. The solution is in finding other ways to monetize small businesses in the area. We laid out our proposal two years ago, but with the exception of Sacramento Press, a hyperlocal venture that is truly flourishing, we haven’t seen a whole lot of interest.

Promoting Newsroom Innovation

Lauren Rabaino picks up on a Twitter chat with Jay Rosen in which the professor said newsrooms need to radically revamp their culture. Rabaino points to a few examples of how tech startups break the mold in interacting with the customers and investors. While her use of the word “awesome” is a bit excessive, her examples aren’t.  Why are biographies on news sites so boring? Probably because newspaper cultures have traditionally buried the identities of all but their most prominent columnists. In contrast, tech startups use bio pages to point out that there are real people behind the products. Why not humanize the staff that brings you the news? Chances are they’re members of the community, anyway.

There’s also an interesting idea about bringing webcams into the workplace, something that text-messaging startup Tatango has reportedly done for its investors (although we can find no evidence of it on Tatango’s website). We’re not sure if webcams in the newsroom would be very interesting to look at, but the idea of opening up news meetings to the public has always intrigued us. Yes, competitors would be free to watch the action, too, but might the involvement of the community in the news gathering process also give the open newsroom a competitive edge? We’ve always thought that when it comes to reporting the news, more participation is better than less. Some traditionalists still resist that idea.

In a similar vein, Editor & Publisher has an essay by Neil Greer, CEO and co-founder of ImpactEngine.com, about how to motivate people to innovate. We think the recommendations are mostly management common sense, but they’re valid anyway.. T

Miscellany

The Selma (AL) Times-Journal will put up a paywall next Tuesday, becoming the latest in a trickle of small papers to charge for access. It’ll cost you $48/year or $4.95/month to get the news, and PayPal is accepted. Print subscribers will get in for free, but only after paying the online fee and then asking for a rebate. The story about the paywall is bylined by Times-Journal news editor Rick Couch, who temporarily abandons journalistic impartiality in failing to explore the controversy around paywalls or the possibility that this could actually be a bad idea.


The University of Colorado should eliminate its standalone journalism major in favor of an integrated information science or digital communications program, according to the chancellor of the Boulder campus. If approved, the shutdown of the current journalism school could happen as early as  next year. Chancellor Phil DiStefano isn’t calling for journalism education to fade from this earth. Rather, he thinks it should be incorporated more holistically into a liberal arts education and perhaps become a minor concentration. Boulder’s Daily Camera presents both sides of the debate, including anxious statements from the current journalism faculty who will be moved, like displaced persons, to other corners of the campus.


The Detroit Media Partnership is borrowing an idea from the fast-food industry and offering a $5,000 prize to the person or group who can come up with the best idea “for helping The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press increase their audiences or better serve the community.” Management is taking suggestions now and will hold a public vote in early April. Finalists will pitch their ideas to a panel of judges that includes Domino’s Pizza Inc. CEO Patrick Doyle, whose policy of responding to customer complaints about his company’s crappy product is credited with turning Domino’s around.


Detroit eighth-grader Annie Reed levitates over Eminem interview Detroit’s second most famous business – rapper Eminem – shook up the local journalism world a bit by snubbing hundreds of media supplicants and granting a rare interview to East Hills Middle School eighth-grader Annie Reed. Reed, who had pursued the interview at the urging of her newspaper instructor,  talked to the 38-year-old rapper for about 10 minutes. The word “cool” was apparently used several times. The Detroit Free Press story is more about how Reed got the audience with Eminem than about what was said on the phone. It’s an uplifting tale and the photo is great. Lose Yourself.


“Launch glitches” will keep Rupert Murdoch’s tablet-only Daily free for at least several more weeks, according to Publisher Greg Clayman. Users have been reporting frequent crashes and freezes, which Clayman said is not surprising for a digital news publication that sometimes exceeds 100 pages per day. While people we know who have tried the Daily mainly dismiss it as gossipy fluff, Clayman says subscriptions are running ahead of plan, although he wouldn’t be more specific


The quarterly earnings season is upon us, and newspaper publishers are reporting better results, but not on the print side. The Washington Post Co. earned $11.59 a share in the quarter, which is nearly $3 dollars better than analyst consensus estimates.  However, print advertising revenue dropped 12%, continuing the ugly trend of the last five years. The good news: online revenues were up substantially.

A.H. Belo Corp., which publishes the Dallas Morning News and Providence Journal, among others, lost $119.5 million, or $5.65 per share, during the final quarter of 2010. That’s way down from earnings of $5.6 million, or 27 cents per share, in the same period the previous year. However, a large charge to cover pension expenses responsible for much of the drop. Revenue was down about 4%.

Gannett reported a fourth-quarter profit increase of 30%, largely due to cost-cutting and strength in its broadcast division. However, advertising revenue on the publishing side dropped nearly 6% and circulation revenue was down 4%.

And Finally…

Thanks to Legends and Rumors for calling out this correction from The New York Times, which we publish in its entirety:

An article on Jan. 16 about drilling for oil off the coast of Angola erroneously reported a story about cows falling from planes, as an example of risks in any engineering endeavor. No cows, smuggled or otherwise, ever fell from a plane into a Japanese fishing rig. The story is an urban legend, and versions of it have been reported in Scotland, Germany, Russia and other locations.

It’s disconcerting when the CEO of one of the emerging giants of online publishing is quoted referring to the acquisition of a news organization as “the future of the content space.” However, that’s how AOL CEO Tim Armstrong apparently sees the hundreds of millions of dollars in recent investments his company had made to acquire properties like TechCrunch, Patch.com and now Huffington Post. He’s filling a space.

He could do worse than to fill it with the staff at Huffington, however. The $315 million deal, which was announced late last night, puts HuffPo founder Arianna Huffington (right) in charge of all of AOL’s editorial properties, which include TechCrunch and the rapidly growing Patch.com network of local news sites. She also gets Mapquest and MovieFone thrown into the deal. This should be a dream come true for Huffington, who launched HuffPo as a blog six years ago and who has taken only $1 million in investment capital since then.  The New York Times has all the facts.

Huffington has a chance to shape a new kind of media company as AOL struggles to recover from its disastrous merger with Time-Warner and its reputation for editorial superficiality. AOL has made some innovative strides in investing in Patch, and its earlier acquisitions of TechCrunch and Engadget demonstrate a willingness to invest in distinctive editorial models that challenge mainstream media. However, as The New Yorker noted in a recent critical profile of AOL and Armstrong (summarized on PaidContent.org), the company’s failure to hire an editor-in-chief has made it appear strategically aimless. The installation of Huffington in that job is a chance to fix that.

HuffPo is growing like a weed. The organization now has more than 200 employees and is on track to generate $60 million in advertising revenue this year. Paywall fans might want to note that HuffPo has no paid subscription model. In fact, as The New York Times points out, readers’ ability “to leave comments on Huffington Post news articles and blog posts and to share them on Twitter and Facebook has been a major reason the site attracts so many readers.”

AOL has been such a backwater of editorial mediocrity for so long that it’s hard to shake the assumption that the company will find a way to screw this up. However, Armstrong does appear willing to place bets on some properties that are breaking the mold of how journalism has traditionally been done. With Huffington at the helm, AOL has a strong leader in this “space.” Please just don’t call it that.

Shaky Daily

The DailyHave you downloaded your copy of Rupert Murdoch’s The Daily for the iPad yet? Don’t rush. A lot of early adopters are apparently still waiting for it to load. PaidContent.org says the app routinely takes a minute or more to start and that crashes and freezes are common. In ratings on the iTunes store, “even the positive reviews mention load problems and crashes,” writes Staci Kramer. Adds John Gruber, “My opinion of it has declined each day.”

Alan Mutter is a little more definitive, pronouncing The Daily “a dud” based upon its first issue. With “the barest possible news report back-filled by a bunch of vapid features,” the journal is “more like the Etch-A-Sketch edition of Us magazine than the ground-breaking news platform it purports to be,” he writes. Ouch.

To be fair, The Daily is in start-up mode, and anyone who has ever launched a new publication will tell you that the first issue is usually not portfolio material. Few people will remember these early negatives if the venture turns out to be a hit (remember Amazon’s frequent outages in the late 90s? Neither do we). One impressive achievement for the new publication is the stable of blue-chip advertisers it’s lined up. AdAge says they include Macy’s, Verizon Wireless, Land Rover, Pepsi Max and Virgin Atlantic. It also ran a 30-second ad on the Super Bowl, but that achievement is made less notable by the fact that its parent company owns Fox Broadcasting.

The Times They Are Delaying

It’s been nearly a year since The New York Times announced plans to charge for access to its online content starting in January. Now January has passed and we’re still waiting for what publishers hope will be a model for other subscription wannabes across the Internet.

Perhaps the Times is dallying because it doesn’t want the paywall to be another Daily. Times staffers are laboring to fix more than 200 bugs in the technology for charging readers, Bloomberg says. The difficulties apparently stem from the complexity of the app, which has several payment tiers and which must balance limited access with the offsetting needs to be visible to search engines and to enable readers to easily post links  on Twitter and Facebook.

While the world waits for the time strategy to unfold, the paper has quietly launched an unrelated and useful recommendation engine. Neiman’s Megan Garber caught up with Marc Frons, the Times’ CTO for digital operations, and discovers that the engine does a lot more than simply spit back articles that share similar tags. Frons says the program also looks at “people’s patterns, and how they move around the site, and what sorts of different things they might look at.” It tries to figure out what you might like even if you haven’t read stories in that domain recently. On the back end, it gives the Times greater insight into what readers want, which probably has some value in determining what they will pay for.

And Finally…

We were so stunned by the ad for coupon broker Groupon that ran on the Super Bowl last night that we fished it out of YouTube to be sure we hadn’t heard it wrong. We hadn’t. Actor Timothy Hutton delivers a solemn soliloquy on the suffering of the people of Tibet under Chinese rule. “Their very culture is in jeopardy,” he says. But there’s a bright spot: “They still whip up an amazing fish curry,” and you can get it for half off with your GroupOn membership.

We hope this ad is a subtle joke. If so, it sets new standards for subtlety. In a posting on the Groupon blog, founder Andrew Mason explains that the ad is partly satirical. “What if we did a parody of a celebrity-narrated, PSA-style commercial that you think is about some noble cause (such as ‘Save the Whales’), but then it’s revealed to actually be a passionate call to action to help yourself (as in ‘Save the Money’)?”

Actually, we think it’s a terrible idea. Using the suffering of people and the peril of entire species to sell advertising is sort of baldly offensive on its face, don’t you think? If the ad is intended to raise money for Tibet, it would have been nice to offer diners the option of sending their savings directly to Tibetan relief. But the ad neglects that detail.

If you agree that this campaign is over the top, please tweet your thoughts to Andrew Mason. Better yet, give to The Tibet Fund, where Groupon is saving face by matching donations up to $100,000.