Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The fragile model of the New York Times

Ken Doctor is one of the best American experts on newspapers. In his last blog, he comments the figures of the New York Times  for the first half of 2015. They are both a source of comfort and worry. True, the Gray Lady has reached the impressive figure of 1 million digital subscribers, including 1000000 from non US countries. True also, these subscriptions bring 185 millions dollars a year, a figure close to the cost of the newsroom which amounts to 200 millions.

However, it could be too late, too little. Print advertising keeps going down at a frightening speed: minus 12.8% for the second quarter. The digital ads went up by 14.2 but the global figure is still -5.5.
The print circulation keeps going down too. 10 years ago, the print sales were 1.5 million. Today, they are 650000. Admitedly, if you add up the million digital subscribers, you get the same global number as 10 years ago but the daily is far less profitable.

One of the main reasons for this fall of net income is that digital publication has a heavy cost. The NYT must hire a growing population of computer and Internet experts and lauch new experiments that are expensive and not always successful like NYT Now. Moreover, the potential for new subscribers is limited, unless the Gray Lady chases more foreign customers, a process which is not cheap either.

The lesson one can draw is that quality and good journalism have a cost but it pays with always reluctant subscribers  and also, one must rely more and more on digital tools which are hard to find and very, very expensive. Still for the main Western newspapers, there is no choice. They must move on or be irrelevant and disappear.