Each Day on the Road Requires Three in the Office

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Over the years, I’ve learned that each day on the road requires three days in the office to catch up. I’ve been on the road for the five of the past 13 weeks and can barely see where I should be, nonetheless catch up. Nevertheless, here are some of the things (some a bit old) that I’m today noting during my catch up:

TimesSelect, the paid-access portion of The New York Times‘ website currently has approximately 627,000 subscribers, 34 percent of whom actually pay. The rest get free access to TimesSelect because they subscribe to the newspaper’s printed edition. The newspaper’s website receivespremier newspaper in the English-language has been able to convert only 1.6 percent of its website’s users into paying after 18 months of marketing. I think that result fits within the One Percent Rule I formulated in my ClickZ columns nearly five years ago.

When TimesSelect launched in September 2005, The New York Times‘ digital chief Martin Nisenholtz told Editor & Publisher magazine’s Steve Outing that its goal was hundreds of thousands of subcribers in the eary years and even more over the long term. Outing wroter:

One factor that Nisenholtz thinks will encourage people to pay to keep reading the Op-Ed crew is the notion of the “Times loyalist” — perhaps 1.5 million to 2 million readers who are devoted to The New York Times brand, and spend significantly more time reading NYTimes.com than they do other news sites. With them, he claims, their willingness to fork over “the equivalent to buying a few martinis” for an annual subscription could be expected.

So you be the judge. TimesSelect has approximately 213,180 paying customers (forget the claimed 627,000 customers: 413,820 of them aren’t paying). That number is in the hundreds of thousands. But is it a significant portion of the 1.5 million to 2 million ‘Times loyalists’ who were targeted? It’s certainly not a significant portion of the more than 13 million users of the website. Does having 213,180 paying customers after 18 months mean that TimesSelect might have 426,360 after 3 years? If you think so, ask yourself why such new customers would pay then to access tollgated content they haven’t been accessing during the past 18 months.

The New York Times earns approximately $11.5 million in gross revenues from TimesSelect. But as Outing noted when TimesSelect launched:

Steve Klein, an online journalism professor at George Mason University, says one of his students raised an excellent point during a class discussion this week about TimesSelect: ‘Even if the Times picked up most of its existing online readers, how are they going to grow a new generation of online Op-Ed readers if they keep the columnists behind a pay firewall?’ Good question.”

My congratulations to New York Times Company Chief Financial Officer Janet Robinson and Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. on their pyrrhic $11.5 million success with TimesSelect!

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Speaking of The New York Times, I wonder if my posting here earlier this month about Norwegian newspapers’ successes online might have prompted its story about that on Monday? It notes that one major Norwegian newspaper publishing company today earns 20 percent of its revenues online and during expects to earn 60 percent during 2008.

In 1995, Schibsted started investing heavily in new media, and it stuck with those commitments in 2000 and 2001, when some other publishers turned skeptical. In recent years, the investments have started to pay off, and Schibsted is now the biggest player on the Internet in Norway and neighboring Sweden. It has also expanded aggressively into new markets like France and Spain, starting free newspapers under the name 20 Minutes and acquiring classified advertising businesses that it is moving onto the Internet.

Kjell Aamot, chief executive of Schibsted, said the company recognized more than a decade ago that “being a traditional Norwegian newspaper company would not be sustainable over time.”

While other newspaper companies tried to cling to their existing business models, he said in a telephone interview from Oslo, “we changed from a defensive stance at the beginning of the Internet age to a very offensive one.”

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aripaev.jpg Undetered by meeting amid many feet of lake-effect snow at Syracuse University’s journalism school, the Society of Newspaper Design named four newspapers as the ‘World’s Best Designed.’ The best are Äripev of Tallinn, Estonia; El Economista of Madrid, Spain; Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung of Frankfurt, Germany; and Politiken of Copenhagen, Denmark. Those were selected from among 351 entries in SND’s annual newspaper design awards contest. The judges commented:

“We saw a lot of great individual pages; the challenge was to find excellence from cover to cover. We learned that a significant percent — even among high circulation dailies — neglected basic typography. That is a real concern. In the end, we chose four very different newspapers that excelled above all others. We found elegance, visual virtuosity, raw energy, grit and innovation.”

More about the four winners.

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American Journalism Review profiled online wunderkind Adrian Holovaty.

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A excellent resource I’ve been using to track the rise of free printed daily newspapers worldwide is the Newspaper Innovation blog and particularly its monthly newsletter (PDF). These are published by Dr. Piet Bakker of the University of Amsterdam / Amsterdam School of Communications Research (ASCoR).

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