Digital A-List 2008

Digital A-List 2008: No. 4,

Ending an Unpopular Experiment to Capture Circ Revenue Has Paid Off

By Published on .

When The New York Times' website demolished the pay walls that had separated its columns and other premium content from the freeloading hoi polloi, it sealed a spot on the Digital A-List.
Vivian Schiller, senior VP-general manager at
Vivian Schiller, senior VP-general manager at Credit: Darryl Estrine

TimesSelect, the scheme to capture online circulation revenue while simultaneously shoring up print circulation, had been an unpopular experiment from the start. But it was an experiment from which The Times could learn and, eventually, extract itself.

"Launching it was the right decision at the time that we did it," says Vivian Schiller, senior VP-general manager at "Taking it down at the time we did was the right decision."

Ms. Schiller says The New York Times Co. collected "a lot of money" from 227,000 TimesSelect subscribers on the web but not enough to outweigh the predictable result when the walls came tumbling down last September: the soaring traffic big advertisers covet.

Unique visitors rose from 9.3 million last September to 10 million in October, according to ComScore Media Metrix. By November, unique visitors to the site totaled 12.7 million -- nearly 38% more than in the same month a year earlier.

Of course, The Times was already a contender for digital acclaim. Not just for its video content, where reporters have been given leeway to show their own personalities. Not just for immediately taking and answering questions online about "The McCain Article," which attempted to explore dealings with lobbyists by the Republican presidential candidate. And not just for creating show-stopping ad units that make advertising, such as the recent "Mac vs. PC" ads from Apple, stand out in a good way. has always lived on the shortlist because of its very un-Timesian willingness to, well, mess around. "We're never going to do anything that would undermine our journalism," Ms. Schiller says. "There's a lot you can do without crossing that bridge. It's about ways to extend our content to readers."

This has been due, Ms. Schiller and others point out, to the work of many smart, dedicated executives, technologists and reporters. Perhaps none deserves as much notice as Martin A. Nisenholtz, who's been senior VP-digital operations at the Times Co. since February 2005 but has been at the forefront of its online explorations since 1995.

"I'm a big fan of The New York Times online," says Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of Denuo Group, the emerging-media specialist unit of Publicis Groupe. "It's been a pioneer and a leader. That is, I think, a big credit to Martin Nisenholtz.

"The reality is The New York Times by its very nature is stodgy," Mr. Tobaccowala says. "The fact that he's been able to achieve these things and be patient enough in a relatively stodgy and fast-moving enterprise is remarkable."

Expect the pace to continue accelerating. Rupert Murdoch has repeatedly bragged that he would like his Wall Street Journal to overtake the Times as the country's paper of record; much of that battle will take place online.
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