Sunday, November 13, 2005

New York Times Reports $6.7 Million Of Online Sales Annually Thus Far

In its first extensive report of how it's doing selling its columnists online, the New York Times reported Saturday, it has succeeded in selling 135,000 columnist packages online in the first two months of selling. That means about $6.75 million in sales on an annual basis.

As writer Joseph Nocera summed it up, that "is not half bad," even though, he confesses, there is a lot of resistance to paying for newspaper columnists online.

The New York Times is charging $49.95 a year for the columnists to non-subscribers to the newspaper. Subscribers pay nothing, although they have to register.

Nocera says it costs the NYT more than $200 million a year to generate its editorial product.

So, its online receipts are not much compared to that, but it's a start.

The Los Angeles Times abandoned in May an attempt to charge for Calendar writings online after two years, according to Nocera, and the Wall Street Journal has sold 764,000 online subscriptions, which is fairly successful.

It seems to me, thinking about this, that the L.A. Times bailed out too quickly.

I wonder what would happen if the L.A. Times tried selling its foreign coverage online. After all, under John Montorio's direction, Times Calendar coverage is often strangely slanted. But L.A. Times foreign coverage is good, even if they can't seem to call a terrorist a terrorist, and, if it were marketed, it could be sold worldwide. I think sales could, in time, be substantial. This might be a way of protecting the foreign staff against Tribune Co. desires to cut it.

Generating online sales, needless to say, is important for newspapers, because circulation has been diminishing at most of them.

Compared to the New York Times, the L.A. Times, under Tribune Co. ownership, overall has been sinking. While the New York Times ownership has been determined, both to increase national subscriptions and online sales,. under the Tribune, the L.A. Times has given up on its national edition and not pursued online subscriptions.

As I've suggested, the Tribune Co. is a lackluster outfit. In many respects, its management is incompetent, and if things go on as they are, the L.A. Times could ultimately vanish as a newspaper, that is if it's not sold to local interests, or at least to someone else. Almost anyone would be better than the Tribune is now.

Nocera's report Saturday in the NYT shows online sales are worth pursuing, even if there is reader resistance. L.A. Times columnists might not be marketable at this point, because the editorial pages right now are a terrible product, still under the shadow of Michael Kinsley, as today's malaria editorial shows. But the foreign coverage could well be successfully marketable.

The L.A. Times recently appointed Joel Sappell to take over its Web site, and I would imagine he is casting around for ideas on how to make it profitable. Maybe, he should try marketing the foreign writers.

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