Tuesday, September 18, 2007

NYT Internet To Be Free To Everyone

In a move toward the Internet future, the New York Times announced today that henceforth its Web site will be free to all who look at it, with the exception of some archives prior to 1986. The NYT has been making about $10 million a year from 227,000 of its readers who were willing to pay to read Times columnists.

But in a Business section story today by Richard Perez-Pena, Times spokesmen said it had been determined the Web site would be more lucrative simply by opening it to everyone for free, and selling more advertising.

This very much follows the Google and Yahoo examples. Oftentimes, subscribers get those Web
search vehicles free of charge, but Google and Yahoo earn very large amounts simply from selling ads, and that is their main revenue base. It has also become evident, even by studying where readers are coming from on a blog as small as this one, that a sizable proportion of readers come from Europe, the Middle East and the Far East, spreading the influence of both blogs and newspapers far and wide.

The New York Times Web site, by far the best read of any newspaper, is already drawing 13 million hits a month, many of them references from Google, Yahoo and other Web sites through links. Regular Times subscribers were allowed to read everything for free, but only those non subscribers to the print edition who paid could read the columnists. This, as the article says today, was satisfactory neither to the non-payers nor to the columnists (who were losing millions of readers).

The Times article this morning notes that the Wall Street Journal currently has nearly a million subscribers to its Web site, and is drawing revenue of $65 million a year. However, the new WSJ owner, Rupert Murdoch, has declared he is considering making that Web site free too, and for the same reasons, that he believes it may draw many additional readers and be able to sell advertising far exceeding the $65 million.

The L.A. Times for a short while charged Web site visitors to view articles in its Calendar sections, but dropped the practice and went free when it noticed a sharp drop off in viewers. The lackluster L.A. Times Web site managers have managed so far to sell comparatively little advertising for the Web.

It is increasingly clear that a large proportion of a newspaper's total revenue can be obtained through selling online advertising of all kinds. This could even revive total Classified sales. The decline of Classified, or its siphoning off to various other Web sites, has been one of the factors leading to a decline in overall newspaper revenue across the country.

Despite statements earlier this year by L.A. Times publisher David Hiller that the L.A. Times was going to invest more in an improved Web site, so far the L.A. Times site has been improving only slowly. It trails far behind the New York Times site both in the number of stories featured on its home page, and the frequency of changes of news presentations made on it. The New York Times is thus far more proficient at showing the latest news, and it has many more opportunities for readers to comment and give their own views than the skittish L.A. Times editors provide.

Just Tuesday night, the L.A. Times Web site was still running a headline that the Los Angeles Dodgers had lost the first game of a doubleheader to the Colorado Rockies, two hours after they had also dropped the second game. The story referred to said the doubleheader had been swept by the Rockies, but not the headline that reefered to it. It has long been clear that the LAT Web site does not have enough employees to put out a consistent product.

In addition to subscribing to the New York Times, I look at that newspaper's Web site five or six times a day, and also have become fond of looking at the Web sites of the Jerusalem Post, the London Times and the Washington Post. It has allowed me to partake of a much greater range of public opinion and what the press is doing. Also, I frequently look at Yahoo, which has links to many European publications.

It does take a sizable staff devoted to that purpose to have a good Web site, and, so far, the Tribune Co., owners of the L.A. Times, has been unwilling to invest any substantial funds into improving the L.A. Times product. This is similar to the Tribune's reluctance to spend money on promoting circulation for the print edition.

Altogether, it is high time that the L.A. Times put the thought, money and effort into the newspaper's Web site that the New York Times does, rather than just talk about doing so. This may well be a substantial portion of tomorrow's newspaper business.

In another ambitious step toward the future, two Murdoch-owned publications, the New York Post and the Wall Street Journal, have announced plans for weekly magazines at a time when the L.A. Times has been sharply cutting back the frequency of its West magazine.

Murdoch may be politically reactionary, but he does appear to be a far better businessman than the inept Dennis FitzSimons, CEO of the Tribune Co. He appears to recognize much more clearly than the Tribune executive just what a glossy Sunday magazine can do for a newspaper.

Only occasionally now, not weekly, the L.A. Times is running West magazine. There was one on Sunday featuring exotic travel that was quite good. But West has never had the lengthy perceptive political pieces that the highly successful New York Times magazine has had, including splendid recent analyses of presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani.

The New York Times editors, unfortunately, are better thinkers than the L.A. Times editors, and their Tribune owners. But that does not have to be a permanent condition. The prospective new owner of Tribune, Sam Zell, could assert himself by firing FitzSimons and Times publisher David Hiller, a Chicago transplant, and hiring new, intelligent leadership.

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If there is any ray of light at all in the tragic air crash at Phuket, Thailand, it comes in a report on Associated Press today that Iranian and Israeli forensic experts and diplomatic envoys have met and are cooperating in identifying the victims, of which there were at least six Israelis and 18 Iranians.

The best news the whole world could get these days would be of any overtures for any reason between Iran and Israel..

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