New York Times Transitioning to Web Only
New York Times chairman Arthur Sulzberger says, “I really don’t know whether we’ll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don’t care either.” He spells out his vision for the future in an interview with Eytan Avriel of Haaretz.
Sulzberger says the New York Times is on a journey that will conclude the day the company decides to stop printing the paper. That will mark the end of the transition. It’s a long journey, and there will be bumps on the road, says the man at the driving wheel, but he doesn’t see a black void ahead.
Classifieds have long been a major source of income to the press, but the business is moving to the Internet. Sulzberger agrees, but what papers lose, Web sites gain. Media groups can develop their online advertising business, he explains. Also, because Internet advertising doesn’t involve paper, ink and distribution, companies can earn the same amount of money even if it receives less advertising revenue.
Really? What about the costs of development and computerization? “These costs aren’t anywhere near what print costs,” Sulzberger says. “The last time we made a major investment in print, it cost no less than $1 billion. Site development costs don’t grow to that magnitude.”
Truly visionary, right? The owner of the most prestigious newspaper in the United States has finally caught up to Jeff Jarvis, who has been arguing for years that the business of media companies is not papers but rather content.
Sulzberger has not quite made the mental conversion necessary for the Internet age, however.
Will it be free?
No, Sulzberger says. If you want to read the New York Times online, you will have to pay.
Then the New York Times will exist only as a niche paper. Slate, Salon, and others have tried and failed going the subscription-only route. There’s simply too much good content out there that’ openly accessible. Just as with the print editions now, newspapers will need to figure out how to build their business models around advertising or something other than subscriptions. People simply aren’t willing to pay more than a nominal price for access to information, especially when similar content is available free elsewhere.
As a minor aside, it strikes me as odd to break this story at Haaretz rather than, I dunno, the New York Times?
Don Surber, meanwhile, thinks that if Sulzberger’s premise that people “want reliable news that they can trust” is correct, the NYT might be in trouble. Pretty funny, if ultimately unfair. Despite my skepticism of their editorial slant and their numerous publicized troubles, I still find the NYT among the premier sources for news out there.
Nobody gets it right all the time, not the big papers, not broadcast, and certainly not blogs. The key is to read multiple sources and apply skepticism and your own judgment. Surber’s maxim, “Cite, but verify. Never trust again.” is quite right.