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Summary:

The New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) will turn the meter on for its flagship web site — but the implementation will take about as long as the…

Arthur Sulzberger
photo: NYTCO

The New York Times Co. (NYSE: NYT) will turn the meter on for its flagship web site — but the implementation will take about as long as the decision. The switch for metering at NYtimes.com is slated for the beginning of 2011, to give the company enough time to build “a new online infrastructure designed to provide consumers with a frictionless experience across multiple platforms.” About the only major detail addressed in the release: New York Times home delivery subscribers will continue to have full access. Pricing, structure — all TBD or TBA “in the coming months.”

The reasoning boils down to this from Arthur Sulzberger, Jr, who holds the dual roles of NYT publisher and company chairman: “Our audiences are very loyal and we believe that our readers will pay for our award-winning digital content and services.” And this from CEO Janet Robinson: “This process of rethinking our business model has also been driven by our desire to achieve additional revenue diversity that will make us less susceptible to the inevitable economic cycles.”

In other words, the NYT wants the same kind of security online as it has off, a consistent revenue stream that may dip with the economy as some people tighten belts but has a constant core. And it’s protecting that core of print subscribers by making sure they have continued access.

Update: A couple of other details emerged in a memo to staff we’ve posted in full (first posted by Romenesko): the Times does not plan to take part in a consortium. “At this stage, our plan is to introduce the metered model as a stand-alone product. At the same time, we continue to discuss alternatives with a broad range of prospective collaborators with regard to bundled offers and other aggregation opportunities.” [David Carr explains the rationale for skipping Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) and Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) in order to control the customer relationships, but he's off on the Journalism Online concept. JO's Gordon Crovitz says the brand keeps the relationships while it provides technology.]

The two went a little deeper about the decision to go with a metered plan (emphasis mine): “We also selected the metered model because it offers a number of important virtues from a financial and growth perspective. It allows NYTimes.com to remain a vibrant part of the search-driven Web, which has proven to be an integral reason for why we have become an industry leader in display advertising. This flexibility enables us to create a proper ratio between free and paid content and to aggressively build on our very successful digital advertising business.”

Why the delay? “Ultimately, we recognize that the success of our ideas will be judged by how well we execute this effort in the months to come. That is why we are waiting until 2011 to introduce this new system.”

They added little detail In interviews with the NYT, but stressed the need to plan carefully. Sulzberger: “We can

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  1. ** The reasoning boils down to this from Arthur Sulzberger, Jr, who holds the dual roles of NYT publisher and company chairman: “Our audiences are very loyal and we believe that our readers will pay for our award-winning digital content and services.” **

    This statement alone tells all. Notice the arrogance of assuming their audience is loyal – I’m pretty sure Polaroid and Circuit City also thought they had a loyal base. The second part of the statement is even more intesting. It does not say the customer will pay for what the customer wants but instead, it tries to argue the customer will pay for award-winning (translation: good ol boys acknowledging each other) content the writers think customers will consume. Didn’t General Motors have this same attitude where it was about the auto designers ego and not the customer demands?

    Read between the lines….

    1. Ed, I don’t think they’re making an arrogant assumption. That loyalty
      statement has basis in research and in action. Whether the loyalty will
      stand the test of payment for those who aren’t already subscribers is a
      different issue.

  2. I think the “loyalty” the NYT is referring to is their paper circulation which is a machine in itself. I do not believe the market is mature enough to tout “digital subscription loyalty” and I see no research indicating mass media orientated digital content has such loyalty.

    Even so, if the NYT is touting loyalty, my question is why are they proposing a “metered” system? If they are promoting loyalty like the WSJ, then it would make sense to use the subscription model.

    The problem with the “metered” model is trying get consumers to take the bait – that is going to be a tough sell when the consumer has other options online to get the same mass media orientated digital content. Even further, I’m concerned that they announced 2011 as a date instead of Jan. 20, 2010 as they give others ample enough time to prepare a competitive strategy.

    Maybe I’m old fashioned but I don’t believe any firm should rest their laurels on loyalty – I’m pretty sure Blockbusters thought the same “loyalty” thing when these RedBox kiosks started showing up and the postal carrier is walking around with red Netflix envelopes stuff in his mailbag…

  3. “why the delay?”

    c’mon, you know why the delay, staci.

    it’ll never materialize.

    nyt share price has risen on the hype that this would save them. putting it for for another year just might keep investors buying that hype.

    gotta wonder what kind of spin we’ll be hearing from brill in the near term.

  4. Ed, the loyalty the Times is referring to is the incredibly high time spent and pages per monthly visitor on the site. It’s through the roof.

  5. I think the New Yok Times will be bankrupy by then

  6. Strong feeling the New York Times will be bankrupt by then

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