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No more orange Ts on the content at NYTimes.com as of midnight Tuesday. We have confirmed that The New York Times (NYSE: NYT) Company is shutting down TimesSelect exactly two years after the premium service launched on September 18, 2005, opening access to all news and editorial columnists. At the same time, much of the NYT’s archives — the past 20 years and the public domain years of 1851-1922 — will be opened, Vivian Schiller, SVP and GM of NYTimes.com., told me in an interview earlier today. Some content from 1923-1986 also will be available for free but the primary use of those years will be for e-commerce, Schiller said.
(The NYT’s coverage is here.)
Also opened for access: personalization tools including online research and storage tools like News Tracker and Times File. Schiller said Times Reader will continue to be a subscription product; the premium crossword service continues as well.
Schiller insisted, as she and other NYT execs have said before that TimesSelect was on plan, was bringing in $10 million in subscription revenue and was successful: “This is what is really important — it did work. It’s just a matter of as compared to what.”
In this case the “what” is the result of traffic increases from search-engine optimization (SEO) and the NYT’s belief that by opening millions of pages to search engines, that traffic growth will continue and with it, ad revenue growth. (American Express has signed on as the first advertiser for the newly accessible Opinions and Archives areas on NYTimes.com.) The SEO dates back to NYTCo’s acquisition of About.com. Since About.com’s SEO technology and expertise was applied, NYTimes.com has experienced triple-digit growth in unique visitors. From July 2005 to July 2006, internal logs showed an 87-percent increase in unique visitors compared with 21 percent the previous year over year. From July 2006 to July 2007, uniques increased another 23 percent on the larger base. The total increase in uniques during roughly the same two years that TimesSelect was in effect: 131 percent.
Following the first year of growth, “we started to do the modeling.” Asked why they didn’t move then, Schiller said they wanted to see if the growth was sustained: “This was not a decision we took lightly. It’s been in the works for several months. We took our time to do the modeling; we considered several different factors.”
The change is because of what’s happened in the internet in the past two years — particularly the power of search.” She added later: “Think about this recipe — millions and millions of new documents, all seo’d, double-digit advertising growth.” The Times expects “the scale and the power of the revenue that would come from that over time” to replace the subscriptions revenue and then some.
For months, whenever the subject of TimesSelect has come up NYT executives had a fairly standard answer: the company continues to evaluate the best approach to NYTimes.com. Schiller told paidContent.org the initial decision to close TimesSelect was made “months ago” but that the company continued to evaluate models in the interim and that there was nothing to announce until now: “Having worked in four major media companies, I’ve seen decisions made and unmade.”
The timing was a coincidence, Schiller said, determined by when the NYT could have all the systems in place for refunds, customer communication and making the content accessible. All that will remain of TimesSelect by Wednesday will be the original content commissioned for the premium service. That, too, will be opened and, Schiller said, original content for the site will be expanded.
TimesSelect closes down with roughly 787,400 active subscribers: approximately 471,200 home delivery subscribers, 227,000 online-only paid subs, and 89,200 free academic subscriptions through TimesSelect University.
Update: The official announcement has just gone out.