New York Times ‘within weeks of decision’ on charging for online


One of the longest-running guessing games for New York Times insiders and observers may be nearing an end: will the paper charge again for content online and what form would a pay programme take? Now after months of deliberation, Executive editor Bill Keller tells public editor Clark Hoyt he guesses a decision is coming “within a matter of weeks.” And yet it doesn’t sound like he sees a straight path to that decision: “It’s a much tougher, more complicated decision than it seems to all the armchair experts. There is no clear consensus on the right way to go.”

Then again, Scott Heekin-Canedy, the NYT‘s president and GM, told Hoyt in June he expected a decision by late summer. Most recently, during last week’s Q3 earnings call, New York Times Co (NYSE: NYT) CEO Janet Robinson told analysts the company has been “exploring new ways to develop alternative revenue streams for” for the past few months. She stayed from promising a decision by a specific time: “We are continuing to evaluate our options and we’ll announce a decision when we believe we have crafted the best possible business approach.” (via Seeking Alpha transcript.)

The Q3 earnings also showed how complicated a decision can be. The NYT dropped its TimesSelect subscription for opinion content, trading $10m from online sub fees for more traffic and more revenues. In Q3, online was responsible for 23% of the company’s ad revenues while its internet businesses accounted for 14% of revenues. At the same time, internet revenues dropped 7% while digital ad revenue for the News Media Group was down 19% (primarily due to classifieds). Robinson and GM Denise Warren each talked up the site as a “premium” environment for brand campaigns. Any decision to charge for content – whether it’s metered access, content specific or other options – will have to add to what the site can get for display. Some execs contended that TimesSelect could make up for lower traffic with premium ad rates. They can’t afford to make this a replacement game.

Then again, Arthur Sulzberger Jr told Hoyt charging for online content “would have little or no impact on our financial results in the short term, but rather position us differently for long-term growth.”

Buyouts: Keller also told Hoyt that the 100 newsroom buyouts – and possible layoffs, if not enough people take the package, were timed now to avoid a costly clause in the Newspaper Guild contract that guarantees its members a full year of vacation pay if they leave after 1 January. That would have upped the number of positions being cut by 10%.

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