‘NYT’ Publisher Sulzberger stresses the need to be ‘platform-agnostic’

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New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., delivering a joint keynote with New York Times Co. President-CEO Janet L. Robinson at last week’s Bloomberg BusinessWeek 2010 Media Summit in New York, stressed the need for the venerable newspaper brand to be “platform-agnostic” and expressed confidence in the pay wall it plans to set up next year.

“It’s not how people get your news and information that defines your brand, it’s the quality of the news and information, and increasingly the quality of how we integrate our audience and our journalists into the social web that we’re all moving towards,” said Sulzberger, who is also chairman of The New York Times Co.

“At the end of the day, we can’t define ourselves by our method of distribution; if we did that, we would still be using pigeons,” he said.

As an example of distribution variety, Sulzberger pointed to the Times’ recent deal with Apple Inc. to offer a version of the newspaper on the new Apple iPad. Key to embracing that and other forms of distribution, he said, is the company’s plan to charge for some of its digital content next year. The company previously tried a paid online model with its TimesSelect program, which charged for op-ed and other features, before abandoning it in September 2007.

“It was a success; it made money,” Sulzberger said of TimesSelect. “But it happened at the same time that digital advertising was just skyrocketing, and it became clear to us that if we wanted to tap into digital advertising in a bolder way, we needed to take that wall down.”

Now, with the need to increase revenue, the company plans to roll out a “metered” model that will impose fees on online viewers after a given number of articles has been seen.

“From a perspective of going forward, particularly with the Internet, I think that it’s important for us to recognize that diversified revenue streams are good for the company long-term,” Robinson said. The metered model, she said, “can help the company grow profitably going forward.”

Robinson said the combination of free and paid content was chosen after close review of other online fee-based approaches. The middle ground, she said, will produce revenue without unduly harming page views.

“There will be an opportunity for us to maintain a very large portion of our audience [and] consequently a very large portion of our ad inventory,” Robinson said. Sulzberger and Robinson noted that the program will be totally free to Times home- or business-delivery subscribers.

“The metered model definitely works,” said Ken Doctor, a newspaper analyst with Outsell, noting that a version of it is being used by the Financial Times. He added that boosting revenue from subscribers is essential to the Times’ long-term strategy and that attracting casual readers with a limited amount of free page views fits into that goal.

The Times doesn’t want the casual reader to run into a pay wall,” Doctor said. “It’s a lead generator for subscribers. They don’t want to get in the way of that free business.”

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