Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Without ever using the word blog, the NYT admits bloggers were right and kills Times Select

So it took two years to the day for the New York Times to admit they miscalculated -- or rather, by fundamentally misunderstanding Internet readership patterns, shot themselves in the foot. But finally, effective midnight tonight, Times Select is dead.
The Times said the project had met expectations, drawing 227,000 paying subscribers — out of 787,000 over all — and generating about $10 million a year in revenue.

“But our projections for growth on that paid subscriber base were low, compared to the growth of online advertising,” said Vivian L. Schiller, senior vice president and general manager of the site, NYTimes.com.

What changed, The Times said, was that many more readers started coming to the site from search engines and links on other sites instead of coming directly to NYTimes.com. These indirect readers, unable to get access to articles behind the pay wall and less likely to pay subscription fees than the more loyal direct users, were seen as opportunities for more page views and increased advertising revenue.

“What wasn’t anticipated was the explosion in how much of our traffic would be generated by Google, by Yahoo and some others,” Ms. Schiller said.
This is funny stuff. In its explanation, the Times uses euphemisms like "links on other sites," "indirect readers" and "some others" to avoid using the dread word "blog."

This really wasn't about Google and Yahoo, and talking about them in this context was nothing but an attempt to save face. What Times Select mainly walled off behind their pay wall were their columnists, and a search engine is an inefficent way to find a specific column.

What really used to drive traffic to the columnists was commentary by thousands of bloggers, small and large, left or right, getting people fired up and providing a link to take them to the site. Once there, they would tend to click on other links, each one offering additional advertising opportunities..

The NYT finally figured out that these are eyeballs and clicks for which advertisers are willing to pay more than the subscription fee they had been charging for Times Select access. What remains to be seen is whether their columnists will ever regain the prominence they had until the Times shot itself in the foot. A lot of people have moved on.

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