It's been ten years since the New York Times took full ownership of the International Herald Tribune, so the rebranding of the expat title has been a long time coming.
Some readers among the Paris-based IHT's 224,000 print subscribers will likely be sorry to see the inevitable come to pass, when the 126-year-old newspaper changes its name to the International New York Times on Oct. 15. The paper launched in 1887 as the Paris Herald, and was most recently jointly owned by the NYT and the Washington Post from 1967 until 2003, when the NYT took full control.
"There's a lot of nostalgia around the brand," said IHT publisher Stephen Dunbar-Johnson. "It's a romantic brand, and you don't give up on a great brand like the IHT without a profound reason. In one word, the reason is digital."
Digital has brought new competition into the market that the INYT should be better equipped to deal with: the old IHT is currently fighting it out with anyone from CNN and the BBC, to HuffPo and the Guardian, as well as its more traditional rivals.
Mr. Dunbar-Johnson admitted, "I sometimes crave the cold war competition era, when the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist and Newsweek were our competitive set. Now it's much bigger and more complicated."
According to its research, the New York Times brand is strong internationally but is viewed as a predominantly U.S. brand. The challenge is to show that the INYT has relevant content for a global readership. To help achieve this, more web producers have been hired in Europe and Asia, greater editorial control has been delegated to Paris, London and Hong Kong, and contributions to the opinion pages have been expanded to bring in more international voices outside the U.S.
Online, the IHT was rolled into the NYT website a couple of years ago. Of the NYT's 708,000 paying digital subscribers, 10% are outside the U.K.
The plan is simple: to drive people to digital platforms and get people to like the product enough that they want to pay for it. As Mr. Dunbar-Johnson put it, "The proof will be in the reading."
Despite the emphasis on digital, the INYT will not give up on the print model. The IHT's 224,000 print subscribers have remained fairly stable over the last three years, despite some erosion in Europe, and ad revenues have grown in two of the last three years. Mr. Dunbar-Johnson said that while print is seen as being in terminal decline in more developed markets, there is still growth in Asia and the Middle East, and he sees a continued potential for print.
Commercially, the re-launch should create a more streamlined proposition. "It will be simpler for advertisers," he said. "At the moment, we have the IHT team selling NYT products. They often have to explain that the IHT is the global edition of the NYT and get through all that. To present one global mono brand is easier." He hopes the INYT will bring in more financial, tech and energy companies than the IHT, which has traditionally been stronger in the luxury sector.
Antoine DeTrogoff, an associate director at Mediacom's international division in London, said the re-branding as a more integrated multi-platform service will help the New York Times be perceived as a more global brand. "This will help sell it as a global and integrated proposal to our clients."
For the Oct. 15 launch, the INYT is planning a series of events and discussion of issues that are driving the global agenda--to be held in Paris, Hong Kong, Tel Aviv, London--to showcase the paper's content and editorial talent. "We didn't want to just quaff drink and blow out candles on a cake," Mr. Dunbar-Johnson said.
An in-house team in New York is still working on the redesign for the INYT, which will be accompanied by a targeted digital-marketing campaign, also created in-house.