The New York Times and print pressures

In a moment of dubious etiquette, venture capitalist and Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen said at a New York Times conference this week that the company should dismantle its print operations not in ten years, or five, but “as soon as possible.” Cue print lovers’ outrage.

Marc Andreessen, co-founder and general partner of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, speaks at the Iab Mixx Conference and Expo in New York, October 2, 2012. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Of course, those paying attention to the newspaper business shouldn’t be surprised to hear anyone, let alone Marc Andreessen, speculating on the eventual or imminent demise of print. At least 14 metropolitan dailies have closed since Newspaper Death Watch (a sobering site if ever there was one) started keeping track in 2007, and another 10 are working on a digital-only or digital-print hybrid. In May, New Orleans’ Times-Picayune said it would be reducing its frequency to three times a week. Gannett and McClatchy are both struggling with falling ad revenue and rising pension costs, and earlier this week, the Tribune Co. – in its fifth year of bankruptcy – announced plans to sell off some or all of its papers.

So everyone knows print is in trouble. But simply giving it up – all production and distribution costs included – is no panacea. True digital success stories are few and far between (think The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and the Financial Times) but are touted as beacons of hope for the industry. To date, newspapers’ transition to online-only has not been, as Andreessen asks of the NYT, a matter of “going on 100 percent offense,” so much as necessary reaction to harsh realities: ad revenue is down, circulation is flat and putting out an actual paper is expensive. It’s too early to know how such nascent operations will fare in the long run.

For the New York Times specifically, the prospect of an all-digital operation is still a financial bridge too far. It’s true that company saw a 10.9% drop in third-quarter print ad revenue, compared with the same quarter in 2011 (and in line with a staggering drop in print ad dollars documented here) but digital ad sales have yet to come even close to filling the void. Moreover, the New York Times Co. saw a 2.2% decline in digital ad revenue in the third quarter, which—at $44.6 million—accounted for less than a quarter of overall ad dollars. In other words, online advertising is still the David to print’s (however floundering) Goliath. The subdued panic resulting from the digital advertising plateau is evident in marketers’ attempts to “revolutionize” the ad space. See: social media marketing, custom content and lofty price tags for exclusive tablet campaigns.

As Gannett’s brand morphs, print still top of mind

Gannett's Detroit newspapers


For a handful of years now,  several newspaper companies have attempted to re-brand themselves into something — anything! — that doesn’t associate them with newspapers. Gannett is one of the latest examples trying to put some distance between itself and the industry despite the fact that it is still the largest newspaper chain by circulation in the U.S.,  it still derives the heft of its revenue from ink on paper, and it still is  a bellwether for other companies that count big iron as an asset.

The USA Today publisher  trips all over itself with its description.  Here is part of the boiler plate the publisher and broadcaster uses:

“Gannett Co., Inc. is an international media and marketing solutions company that informs and engages more than 100 million people every month through its powerful network of broadcast, digital, mobile and publishing properties.”

Exclusive: NYT expands tech blog

The New York Times is expanding its technology blog Bits to include more reporting and analysis about the enterprise portion of the tech sector.  The expanded coverage will encompass a broader range of  subjects like “big data,” “cloud computing” and security issues.

“It’s an area the Times has never had a lot of reporting,” said Damon Darlin, technology editor who oversees the site.

The Times recently hired three new reporters to its tech desk–Quentin Hardy, Nicole Perlroth and Brian X. Chen–to help beef up its coverage and contribute to the blog along with other Times tech reporters. The expansion also includes a new section called “Scuttlebot” that will aggregate tech stories of interest from across the Web.

Washington Post: the latest example of print ad plunge

Just when you think things can’t possibly get any worse for newspapers, it somehow manages to get even bleaker. Today’s example is provided by the Washington Post Co and its flagship paper (and the online site Slate). The company reported third quarter earnings including results from its newspaper division today.

Print advertising revenue fell 20 percent to $57.6 million — quite a stunning plunge even  as newspapers across the U.S. manage to post quarter after quarter of print ad revenue declines. Even more disturbing is that online revenue, which includes and Slate, plunged 14 percent to $23.3 million. Display online ad revenue dropped 17 percent.

The Washington Post is one of those curious oddities in the industry that manages to be extremely local — it’s market penetration of the D.C. area has always been one of the highest in the U.S. — and also draws the interest of a large national audience. So while it may compete with the “nationals” i.e. New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, on the news front,  it is very dependent on local advertising. The NYT, USAT and WSJ get a hefty portion of their advertising revenue through national advertisers.

Boston Globe sets pricing for new website

Another one of the New York Times Co’s newspaper properties is preparing to officially roll out a pay model for its website.  The Boston Globe launched and starting Oct. 1 it will charge $3.99 per week for a digital-only subscription (print subscribers can read the site for free).  Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage New England is sponsoring a free trial subscription through Sept. 30. Unlike its sister site, a subscription for is required to access all content.

The flagship New York Times rolled out in March a pay model for its digital products allowing readers to access up to 20 articles per month for free. After hitting that limit, a reader must shell out for a digital subscription to read more, anywhere from about $15 to $35 a month depending on the package. Print subscribers get free access to the site, mobile and smartphone apps.

The experiment is a being closely watched in the U.S. newspaper industry as a guidepost to see if general interest newspapers can successfully charge for digital content. The early data seems encouraging: As of the New York Times’ last earnings report in July, the company said that the had 224,000 digital subscribers.

Tech wrap: Apple hits new app download milestone

Apple customers sure like their apps. More than 15 billion applications have been downloaded from the App Store by iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch users since its launch in July 2008, according to new figures from the company.

To put that number in context, remember it was just this past January when Apple announced its 10 billionth app download. That means customers have downloaded around 5 billion apps this year alone, compared to the 2-1/2 years it took to reach the 10 billion mark.  Apple can thank its wildly popular iPad for the surge in demand. Of the more than 425,000 apps now available from the App Store, 100, 000 are designed specifically for the tablet computer.

Meanwhile, Apple’s attempt to stop online retailer from using the “App Store” name has failed. Apple filed a trademark lawsuit saying Amazon improperly used the name to solicit developers in the U.S. Amazon responded by saying the term is generic. The U.S. judge who denied Apple’s request argued that while the term wasn’t purely generic, the company failed to prove “a likelihood of confusion” with Amazon’s service.

Bill Keller’s war on the Internet keeps the Times down

By Alex Leo

It seems every time Bill Keller takes pen to paper (or hand to keyboard) these days it’s to express displeasure with some aspect of the Internet. Last week he tweeted “#TwitterMakesYouStupid. discuss.” Without delving into the irony of using the trappings of the Web to attack it, you can see this man is spoiling for a fight. Ever since Keller started his column in the Hugo-Lindgren-revamped Sunday Times magazine, it’s been clear he’s swinging at Arianna Huffington. (Full disclosure: Before coming to Reuters I was a senior editor at the Huffington Post.)

In his first such column, he called The Huffington Post, and aggregators in general, “pirates” and  “counterfeiters.” This level of vitriol is something Keller normally reserves for despots and the Bush White House, so why the exception here? Yes, HuffPo is nipping at the NYT’s toes to become the most widely-read news site on the Web, and yes, Huffington has poached some of Keller’s top talent in recent months, but the truth is that part of Keller’s animus must come from the knowledge that he helped create this monster of a site by refusing to engage with the Internet on the Internet’s terms. It’s not just Keller who ceded ground to The Huffington Post—it’s the news publishing world as a whole which, like the music industry, didn’t revolutionize fast enough and saw a new entity arise to classify their content.

To be fair to Keller, he’s right about a few things. Many of the editors Huffington claimed to employ pre-AOL were really content producers more than journalists—they made slideshows, polls, quizzes, they wrote headlines for AP stories, added images to blogs, embedded videos and aggregated outside news. With the influx of AOL money, Arianna has started to do what she always wanted: Hire prestigious journalists and bloggers and build an empire that earns as much respect as it does page views. This in no way means the page views will come from the respectable journalism—my guess is that Peter Goodman brings in 1/10th the traffic of a kitten-posting associate editor who earns 1/10th his salary does, but they serve different purposes and both are important for the brand.

Tech wrap: Apple beats Google to the music cloud

Storm clouds gather over Hanoi's skyline September 21, 2009. REUTERS/KhamApple has completed work on an online music storage service and is set to launch it ahead of Google, whose own music efforts have stalled, according to several people familiar with both companies’ plans. The sources revealed that Apple’s plans will allow iTunes customers to store their songs on a remote server, and then access them from wherever they have an Internet connection and that Apple has yet to sign any new licenses for the service and major music labels are hoping to secure deals before the service is launched. launched a music locker service earlier in April without new licensing agreements leading to threats of legal action from some music companies.

Verizon gained wireless subscribers with Apple’s iPhone, but the device’s affect on its financials failed to impress investors. Verizon Wireless posted 906,000 net new subscribers, roughly in line with expectations. That was much better than AT&T, which added only 62,000 net subscribers in the quarter as it lost iPhone exclusivity. However, a key sticking point for investors when comparing the two operators was the fact that AT&T won more new iPhone customers in the quarter than Verizon. Verizon announced that it would sell a new version of the iPhone later this year that, unlike its current iPhone, would work globally.

The risky attempt by The New York Times to charge fees to website readers looks to be paying off, although it still faces stiff challenges in turning around a fall-off in print advertising revenue at its core business. The company gained more than 100,000 new subscribers since it introduced its digital subscription service on March 28, representing at least an estimated $26 million in annual revenue and trouncing early expectations for the service.

Google: We’re no media company – but read our magazine

Earlier this week, New York Times  media columnist David Carr asked the question that is on the minds of moguls  everywhere: Is Google a media company?

Google flat out rejected the description. Here’s Hal Varian, Google’s chief economist, explaining the rationale to Carr: “We are in the business of media distribution, but I don’t think that we would be very good at media creation. I think it’s one thing that we have astutely avoided in the last 12 years.”

Umm, well, not exactly.  The search behmouth  just unveiled an online magazine called “Think Quarterly” that has a very high brow, old media vibe to it.  The idea behind the quarterly publication? It’s best said by Google (and sounds suspiciously like old media):

New York Times aware of buggy iPhone app

iPhone Frequent users of the New York Times iPhone application likely have noticed that the app has been a bit buggy of late. The New York Times developed a nicely designed means to get the latest news on your smartphone — when you can update it that is. 

This reporter, who uses the app almost daily and depends upon it to catch up on news during subway rides, noticed that the app is having problems refreshing.  Apparently others have noticed too. 

A sample of some comments about the NYT from Apple’s App store:


  “Freezes a lot”

“Cmon nyt pls fix the “no update” problem otherwise it’s a great app”