Tag Archives: publishing

NY Times: a bridge to a digital future

By Christopher B. Daly 

Most people who care about journalism share a concern: can the New York Times survive the transition from a print past to a digital future? And can the newspaper carry forward its unparalleled standards, staffing level, and values into a future where the Times flourishes in the news business gets out of the paper business and emerges as a truly online news operation?

Increasingly, it appears the answer will be yes.

A big hint landed softly this week in a column by the Times‘ public editor, Margaret Sullivan. In her column, she indicated that the budget for the Times newsroom is “more than $240 million” a year. That’s how much it costs for the care and feeding of some 1,250 journalists in New York and around the world — salaries (which are at the top of our field), benefits, travel, rent on foreign and domestic bureaus, and on and on. It does not include other costs, such as printing and distribution.

That figure, which I had not seen broken out that way before now, is important.

It confirms, of course, that journalism is not cheap — especially journalism that is predicated on original reporting on a global scale. It represents the paper’s “journalistic nut” — the hard core of spending that must be met, just like your rent or mortgage and utility payments.

The challenge is: how to make the nut?

The good news is that it seems more and more do-able to make the nut into the indefinite future, despite the severe contraction in print advertising.

Here’s one scenario:

–Begin by reducing the nut. Let’s just assume that there is some inefficiency in there, some feather-bedding, some wasted effort (like the still extensive time and energy put into the laying out of each next day’s print “front page.”) For the hell of it, say you could cut that budget by 8% and still survive essentially intact. (That’s one-12th of the total, or $220 million instead of $240 million.)

–That means you need to come up with $55 million per quarter.

–Already, the Times is bringing in $38 million, from digital advertising only, according to the Public Editor.

–She did not say how much money is coming in every quarter from digital subscriptions, but she did note that “digital-only” subscriptions have risen (from zero) to about 800,000.

–It would not be unrealistic to think that if the Times went digital-only, it would pick up another 200,000 out of the base of subscribers who now get the print edition.

–So, there’s a hypothetical base of 1 million digital subscribers.

–If those 1 million people would pay $20 per quarter, you would have more than your $55 million nut.

Of course, there are problems. Maybe the Times can’t find 1 million customers. Maybe those readers won’t pony up enough in subscription. And these revenue figures are all net figures: someone still has to go to work at the Times every day to sell those ads and handle those digital subscriptions. Just because those operations are digital, they are not free.

My point is that the trend of rising revenues from digital ads and digital subscriptions is approaching the point at which they could carry the newsroom. They are not there yet, which may point to another partial, temporary answer: just print on Sundays. Print advertising brings in something like four times the amount of digital ads, but that print-based is declining and will not carry the paper into the future. So, during the transition, why not keep the big fat Sunday edition? It has the largest number of readers (1.2 million), pages, ads, and revenue. No need to say goodbye to all those full-page Style-section ads from Ralph Lauren and Chanel. At least not yet.

NYTCo homepage

NYTCo homepage

 

 

 

 

 

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Time Life magazines move downtown

By Christopher B. Daly

I guess the party’s really over. Time Inc., the once phenomenally profitable publishing empire founded by Henry Luce (and Briton Hadden) in 1923, is considering a move out of its landmark skyscraper in midtown Manhattan. According to today’s NYTimes, Time Inc., the company that publishes TIME, SI, People and many other magazines, is heading downtown — way downtown, to 225 Liberty St., a building just west of the site of the new Liberty Tower and the memorials to the fallen Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

Screen Shot 2014-03-21 at 2.47.14 PM

In its heyday, of course, Time Inc. was a powerhouse of profit, prestige, and political heft, as I wrote about in my book Covering America. After outgrowing its space in the original Rockefeller Center, Time Inc. was offered its own building across 6th Avenue. In 1959, Rockefeller Center expanded to the west side of the avenue with a building erected just for Time Inc., known as the Time & Life Building, at 1271 6th Ave. Here’s a version by Dan Okrent, from his book Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center. (Fun Fact: Dan was hired by Time Inc. in the 1990s to bring the company’s portfolio of magazines online, but that’s another story.)

What [architect Wallace Harrison] did deserve credit for was what Vincent Scully called the “incoherent splatter of skyscrapers” marching down the west side of Sixth Avenue. This western expansion of Rockefeller Center began with Harrison’s new Time & Life Building in 1959 and degenerated from there, a row of marble megaliths that seemed informed less by the doctrines of the International Style than by some for of totalitarian nightmare. . .(427)

One of Time Inc.’s neighbors in recent years has been News Corp, which occupies its own totalitarian megalith just south of the Time & Life Building. Other neighbors: NBC, CBS, CNN, and (until a few years ago) The AP.

I wonder who will be next to bail out from midtown?

Time & Life Building Photo by Richard Drew/AP

Time & Life Building
Photo by Richard Drew/AP

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Murdoch solves his housing crisis

So nice to see that Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch has found a place to rest his head.

Since Wendi got the triplex on Fifth Avenue as part of the divorce, Rupert has not exactly been facing homelessness, but still. . . He has landed a rather special spot: the top four floors (take that, Wendi!) at One Madison. (For those planning to drop by, the entrance will be on E 22nd, between Bway and Park.) That’s a lot of stairs for a guy his age, but apparently it’s worth it to be able to say you’ve got a quadriplex.

According to the Times, he paid more than $57 million for the new condo. Ah, to think of the money to be made in mass media!

The building under construction in September 2008; the Met Life Tower is in on the left

Wikipedia: The building under construction in September 2008; the Met Life Tower is in on the left

 

 

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The history of journalism lives on in Worcester, Mass.

By Christopher B. Daly

Here’s a recent article in Worcester magazine introducing readers to the incomparable American Antiquarian Society. It sounds like a museum of antiques, but it is actually the most extensive collection of American newspapers, pamphlets, lithographs, sheet music, and ephemera from the 17th century through the late 19th century.

From the article:

A few of the Society’s most valued materials include a first-edition copy of Lewis and Clark’s journals, printed in the early 1800s; the first printed Bible in British North America, released in 1663; the only known copy of the famous English book “Pamela,” which was the first book printed

COVER_philosophic-cockin the United States, published and sold by Benjamin Franklin; and the only known original copy of the political cartoon “The Philosophic Cock,” which was an early slam of Thomas Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings, depicting Jefferson as a rooster and Hemings as one of his hens. At the end of last year, one of the few remaining copies of the first book ever written and printed in British North America, in 1640, the Bay Psalm Book, sold at auction for $14.2 million – the American Antiquarian Society just so happens to also have an original copy of the book.

 

 

The AAS attracts scholars from around the world, including Ken Burns and Jill Lepore, and it is  open to the public.

Here’s a note on the AAS’s history from Wikipedia.

AAS was founded by Isaiah Thomas on October 24, 1812 by an act of the Massachusetts General Court. It is the third oldest historical society and the first to be national in scope.[4]Isaiah Thomas started the collection with approximately 8,000 books from his personal library. The first library building was erected in 1820 in downtown Worcester, Massachusetts. This building was later abandoned and a new building was constructed. It was completed in 1910 and stands on the corner of Park Avenue and Salisbury Street. There have been several additions to this building to accommodate the growing collection, the most recent of which was completed in 2003.

There’s also a story as to why Isaiah Thomas was in Worcester. He was the editor of a Boston newspaper on the patriot side in the American Revolution called The Massachusetts Spy. On April 16, 1775, when the rebels were coming under increasing scrutiny by the British forces occupying Massachusetts, Thomas began to fear that

Isaiah Thomas, rebel printer, by Ethan Alan Greenwood.  Courtesy, AAS

Isaiah Thomas, rebel printer, by Ethan Alan Greenwood.
Courtesy, AAS

the redcoats would soon descend on his Boston print shop and put him out of business. So, under cover of darkness, he loaded his presses onto wagons and piled on as many back copies of his own paper as possible, along with any other newspapers or other printed material that would fit. He moved the whole operation to Worcester, safely remote from the coastal bases of the British forces, and prospered there. He later wrote the landmark book, History of Printing in America.

 

So, a hat-tip to Isaiah Thomas.

 

 

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A new New York Times online

By Christopher B. Daly

Today brings a long-awaited redesign of the New York Times online in all its various incarnations — desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile.

An overall first impression: it’s clean, smart, fast, and user-friendly. A clear winner. 

Screen Shot 2014-01-08 at 11.11.00 AM

To learn more, here’s an article by former Times media reporter Brian Stelter.

Some concerns:

–In the mobile version I am seeing on my iPhone, one screenful displays only 1.5 stories. It feels a bit like following a flashlight beam. I get no sense of the overall news picture.

–I am, of course, concerned about the simultaneous introduction of “native advertising” — which I consider an insidious erosion of the separation of  “church and state” within news organizations. I don’t care that everybody’s doing it. (On the other hand, I was just roaming around the site on my desktop computer, and I saw zero ads of any kind: is that courtesy of my ad-blocker?)

Your thoughts?

 

 

 

For comparison, here’s the way the Times looked when it made its debut in 1851 (price, 1 cent):

The_New-York_Daily_Times_first_issue

 

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Hyper-local news: a $300 million bust?

By Christopher B. Daly

Now comes word that AOL’s CEO, Tim Armstrong, is putting the finishing touches on the finale of Patch.com, the online local news sites. In his column today, NYTimes‘ David Carr reports that Armstrong is throwing in the towel on what used to be his baby. Too bad it didn’t work out.

There was a time when Patch looked like it might be an important part of the journalistic future. It was based on a key insight: more people were getting their news and information online, so why not local news? (Plus, there are a lot of local pizza parlors and nail salons that might advertise in such a site but would not be bothered advertising on a bigger site, because they would be paying to reach a lot of people who would never wander into their shops.)

While it lasted, Patch was a source of entry-level jobs for our journalism students, and I am worried about what will replace it.

Here’s Carr’s take:

 

The theory was that Patch would use a single news person and a single advertising person, at least initially, to create a digital maypole in hundreds of communities at a cost of about $100,000 annually per site. Patch sites popped up across the country, like Calabasas, Calif., and Nashua, N.H., covering high school sports, city elections and other local fare.

The execution risk was large — Patch was all moving parts, many undermanaged. At its peak, some 900 sites employed 1,400 people. Much of the journalism was pedestrian, while some of it, especially during Hurricane Sandy, was deeply important, but the decision to start at such a large scale was crippling. And all local efforts, digital or not, confront the tyranny of small numbers. Both the journalism and the ad sales were hand-to-hand, a retail effort that required spending a lot of money to go after pretty small revenue.

In August, it was clear that the math would not work. More than 350 people at Patch were laid off and hundreds of sites were shuttered.

What strikes me is the amount of money Armstrong was able to shovel into it — $300 million. Even for corporate moguls, that’s not nothing. Maybe that’s what was wrong all along: if you want to live online, keep your costs down.

I look forward to the experiment in this space that gets it right.

 

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Bezos to Post: “Don’t be boring!”

By Christopher B. Daly 

This seems like good news: Jeff Bezos, the new owner of The Washington Post, went into the lions’ den to greet the news staff and came out a hero. By the Post’s own account, Bezos made a hit during his day of meetings.

Among his thoughts:

–”Don’t be boring.” (Good advice for a newspaper, but too often honored in the breach.)

–“What has been happening over the last several years can’t continue to happen,” he said. “If every year we cut the newsroom a little more and a little more and a little more, we know where that ends.”

– “All businesses need to be forever young.. . “

The Bezos visit caused an explosion on Twitter, including many posts by Posties. See #bezospalooza

Is this man ready for the Style section?  Post photo

Is this man ready for the Style section?
Post photo

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Who will buy the Boston Globe?

By Christopher B. Daly 

imgresThe Boston Globe carries a story today about the impending sale of the newspaper by its owner of the past two decades — the NYTimes Co. Bids are due by June 27. As a regular reader, I hope, of course, that the new owners will be very, very rich people with very, very high standards of journalistic integrity. I hope they will be innovators who have a clue about how to make a business out of quality journalism. I also hope they really care about Boston and New England. I hope they have the nerve to stand up to people like Whitey Bulger (and Billy Bulger, for that matter) and an appreciation for why this is a special place. (Yes, every place is special, but I am looking for someone who gets the particular special-ness of this particular place; in other words, no Sam Zells, please.) I hope they have wit, and style, and grace.

Know anyone?

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Readers to the rescue! NYTimes gains in circulation

By Christopher B. Daly 

Yes, the New York Times company reported a sharp drop in earnings this week.

Yes, the figures for advertising revenue were wretched and getting worse.

BUT, buried in the financial details, there is some potentially important good news: Money coming in from circulation is rising. In fact, it rose 6.5% in the first quarter of this year compared to the same quarter a year ago. Therein may lie the salvation of the most important news organization in the country.

The reason is that “circulation revenue” is all the money coming in from the subscriptions to the traditional print edition, the dollars paid by folks picking up a copy of the Times at newsstands, and — most important of all — the money coming in from digital subscribers who bumped into the Times “paywall” and decided to pony up and pay for full access to the Times online. They are important because they are the future. In the digital era, the key metric is whether you can make money online. Historically, newspapers depended on a “dual revenue stream” of money coming from both circulation and advertising. For more than a century, both sources increased, and they fluctuated around a ratio of 50/50 in terms of total revenues.

If the Times can continue to gain readers who will pay, then there is no reason it could not sustain itself mainly on the basis of its own readers — who are, ultimately, a better base for journalism than advertisers. Thank you, Tiffany and Bloomingdales, and may your ad spending continue. But ultimately, the Times might be better off if it were funded like the old PM newspaper, or I.F. Stone’s Weekly, or NPR, or the AP or other news organizations that do not depend on advertising.

According to the latest figures, readers now account for a majority of the Times revenues.

Here’s a chart from the company’s press release.


First Quarter
2013 2012 % Change
Revenues
Circulation $ 241,789 $ 226,994 6.5 %
Advertising 191,167 215,234 -11.2 %
Other(a) 32,977 33,204 -0.7 %
Total revenues 465,933 475,432 -2.0 %

When I looked at the numbers more closely, here’s what I found on a percentage basis:

First quarter

[                                 2013               2012

Revenues

Circulation             51.8%          47.7%

Advertising            41.0%          45.2%

Other                          7.1%             6.9%

So, it appears that “the people formerly known as the audience” are pointing the ( or a?) way forward.

Readers to the rescue!

chart

This chart (which I customized using a tool on the NYTCo corporate site) shows how the NYTCo stock has performed in the last six months, compared to the Dow Jones average, which has been on a tear. 

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Be you.com (but don’t expect you book publisher to help much)

By Christopher B. Daly 

The Monday Times round-up:

There are two interesting pieces about the media businesses, but they appear in different sections and were probably not planned as a package. Nevertheless, these two articles are more informative if read together.

First, I recommend David Carr’s celebration of the business acumen of the recently departed film critic Roger Ebert. Carr points out that Ebert consistently experimented with new outlets for his work and did not shy away from new technologies. In the process, he became a brand name and added to our vocabulary. (Whether he really elevated film criticism is another question)

Extra credit: Carr discovered (remembered?) that Ebert played a key role in the success of another media entrepreneur — Oprah Winfrey. As I explain in my recent book Covering America (p 424 in the print edition), it was Ebert who opened Oprah’s eyes to the power of owning a stake in your own brand. Taking his advice, Oprah went from being a media employee to being a media mogul.

Ebert and Winfrey even dated for a while in Chicago.

Ebert and Winfrey even dated for a while in Chicago.

All that said, Carr’s column should be read in conjunction with an op-ed by the famous (and wealthy) lawyer, legal novelist, and president of the Authors Guild, Scott Turow. In his op-ed, Turow documents the many ways in which publishers and book-sellers worldwide are turning their ingenuity to finding ways to NOT PAY WRITERS. This is a very bad thing, under any circumstances and in any medium. It also undermines the effort of every writer, like Roger Ebert, who wants to escape the hamster wheel of working for someone else and to live independently on the earnings from their own writing (or painting, or photography, or film-making or any creative venture).

Quoting Turow:

And there are many e-books on which authors and publishers, big and small, earn nothing at all. Numerous pirate sites, supported by advertising or subscription fees, have grown up offshore, offering new and old e-books free.

The pirates would be a limited menace were it not for search engines that point users to these rogue sites with no fear of legal consequence, thanks to a provision inserted into the 1998 copyright laws. A search for “Scott Turow free e-books” brought up 10 pirate sites out of the first 10 results on Yahoo, 8 of 8 on Bing and 6 of 10 on Google, with paid ads decorating the margins of all three pages.

If I stood on a corner telling people who asked where they could buy stolen goods and collected a small fee for it, I’d be on my way to jail. And yet even while search engines sail under mottos like “Don’t be evil,” they do the same thing.

Yikes. Someone should get him a lawyer!

 

 

 

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