segunda-feira, 16 de maio de 2016
How the New York Times plans to conquer the world
How the New York Times plans to conquer the world
America’s best-known newspaper targets Europe and other markets in search of a sustainable digital business.
By JOE POMPEO AND ALEX SPENCE 5/16/16, 3:00 AM CET Updated 5/16/16, 7:59 AM CET
NEW YORK — One night in March, in a jam-packed Austin, Texas beer garden where the New York Times was throwing a party at the annual SXSW Interactive festival, CEO Mark Thompson spent a few minutes chatting with a reporter about the newspaper’s international ambitions.
The New York Times now has north of a million digital subscribers, but only 13 percent are from outside the United States. Thompson, a former head of the BBC, and his colleagues are convinced there’s a wealth of additional readers overseas who would be willing to pay for its journalism on smartphones and computers.
“I don’t see why we shouldn’t aspire to a digital subscriber count of many millions,” Thompson told POLITICO.
It wasn’t the red wine talking. A month later, the New York Times announced it would spend $50 million over the next three years to jumpstart “a new era of international growth.” The money is not only a massive cash infusion, but a big bet on the New York Times’ odds of weathering the newspaper apocalypse through a combination of digital smarts and global scale.
“We intend to cultivate a much larger and deeper readership in core markets abroad” — CEO Mark Thompson
The future of the business depends on it. Later than some of its counterparts in smaller international markets, America’s best-known newspaper is confronting a harsh reality of the new digital media environment: revenues from readers at home won’t be enough to keep its newsroom running.
The New York Times will have to overcome formidable domestic competitors wherever it expands, and make its distinctly American sensibility appeal to readers in those places.
“Every part of the company … needs to think creatively about attracting and retaining a bigger non-American audience and growing revenue outside the U.S.,” Thompson wrote in a staff memo in April co-signed by publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and executive editor Dean Baquet.
“We intend to cultivate a much larger and deeper readership in core markets abroad.”
‘There’s a gap to fill’
The project technically lifted off in February, when the New York Times launched a Spanish-language website, The New York Times en Español, for readers in Latin America.
It was the paper’s second foreign-language product, following a Chinese website created several years earlier. The plan is to eventually charge NYT en Español readers for access and then to replicate the model elsewhere.
Beyond Latin America, the New York Times has its eye on about 10 “key markets” where it believes it can attract a substantial number of paying readers, according to New York Times president of international Stephen Dunbar-Johnson. He said they range from English-speaking countries like Canada, the U.K. and Australia, to places in continental Europe like Germany and the Nordic countries, to Asian markets like India and Japan.
At the same time, Dunbar-Johnson told POLITICO the New York Times is exploring ways to “optimize the core experience” for casual foreign readers already coming to nytimes.com — a third of total web traffic — and to convert them into regular customers.
The international expansion is the New York Times’ biggest financial investment right now.
“We believe there’s a gap we’re well positioned to fill,” said Dunbar-Johnson. “The Economist addresses its readers as if they’re aspiring heads of state. The Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal try to address them as if they’re captains of industry. Our readers are people who are deeply curious about the world, not necessarily because they want to run it, but because they want to understand it and make it better.”
The international expansion, which is rolling out as a cadre of U.S. print and digital publications seek growth abroad, is the New York Times’ biggest financial investment right now.
It stands to make the New York Times more influential in other countries, not unlike how the Guardian got on America’s radar by putting dozens of journalists in the U.S. and chasing homegrown stories like the Edward Snowden surveillance saga, which earned the 195-year-old British news organization a Pulitzer Prize.
But whereas the Guardian and other outlets are trying to make money from their global growth primarily by going after advertisers, the New York Times is banking on the success of its paid digital model, which hasn’t been marketed aggressively outside the U.S. since it began requiring readers to pay for unlimited digital access in 2011.
‘A very American brand’
There’s a lot riding on this. With the ongoing decline of legacy print revenues, the New York Times has set an ambitious goal of growing its digital revenues to $800 million by 2020, from about $400 million last year. Digital subscriptions will be key to achieving that goal.
Thompson said the New York Times has “got a lot more to do in the U.S.” in terms of adding digital subscribers. But really, it will need many more international customers to pull it off.
Not everyone is hot on their prospects.
Douglas McCabe, chief executive of the research firm Enders Analysis in London, said “audiences in all countries are moving away from home news brands … to free online services,” which will make it “extremely challenging” for the New York Times to build up its pool of global digital subscribers.
Another consideration, according to McCabe, is the growing distribution power of social media platforms like Facebook. “Consumption is moving further and further away from content origination,” he said.
“There is no question that the New York Times has much compelling content to offer readers across the world,” said Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of research at the Oxford -based Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.
“The bigger question,” he said, “is what the problem that the Times solves for people is supposed to be, and whether it helps people be part of communities that they want to or need to be part of. Reading the New York Times is part of being a certain kind of person in the US. It is less clear that the Times occupies a similar position with its target audiences” around the world.
International editor Joe Kahn said that’s not an unfair assessment. He acknowledged that the New York Times is “perceived as a very American media brand, unlike some of the British idols”— the Guardian, the BBC, the Daily Mail — “that long ago began the process of realizing their home market is not large enough to sustain their businesses.”
But Kahn argued that the New York Times’ “existing global footprint and reach” is already impressive. According to the web measurement firm comScore, there were 13.6 million visitors to nytimes.com outside the U.S. in March, not counting mobile traffic, which is significant. “Everything we’re doing is going to enhance and market our experience to be ever more relevant” to overseas audiences, he said.
Leading the charge
A new “international growth team” called NYT Global is leading the charge. It includes journalists as well as sales, marketing and audience development personnel.
“We have this extraordinary brand recognition around the world, but not a lot of relevance,” said Lydia Polgreen, a former New York Times foreign correspondent who is heading up NYT Global on the editorial side. “People know who we are, but they don’t have any sense that we are for them. Every single product we have, all of them are really great, and all of them are designed with the U.S. audience in mind.”
That’s what Polgreen and her colleagues are out to change. She mentioned President Obama’s recent trip to Cuba, which got massive, meticulously coordinated coverage from the New York Times’ international desk, and yet didn’t generate a single article that cracked the top-10 on NYT en Espanol. Instead, the number one piece on the Spanish-language site that week was about Obama’s visit to Argentina, which generated less interested in the U.S.
“From the perspective of Latin America, that was much more important,” said Polgreen. Similarly, she said, “Imagine you’re a reader in France and come to the New York Times homepage. It’s completely dominated by what to a foreign reader feels like really small-bore American politics.”
The Spanish newspaper of record, El País had already expanded aggressively across the very turf that NYT en Espanol is now encroaching on.
In addition to determining which other markets to storm, NYT Global also will be looking at developing new editorial products around certain topics with broad global appeal, like climate change, technology, gender identity and urban life, said Polgreen. By the end of 2016, they expect to have some conclusions about what they will launch next and where.
Neither Polgreen nor Kahn nor Dunbar-Johnson would share early figures from NYT en Espanol to give a sense of how promising the global proposition is. But they all said they were extremely pleased with the level of engagement among readers. Icing on the cake: The site has landed advertising campaigns with brands like Banamex, Acciona, Audi and Formula 1.
“This is a project that has to prove its worth,” said Polgreen. “If we do not see a path to monetization that will make this a growing concern, then we’ll need to pivot.”
Of course the New York Times won’t be without competition from other global media brands in the markets into which it expands.
The Spanish newspaper of record, El País, for instance, had already expanded aggressively across the very turf that NYT en Espanol is now encroaching on. Managing editor David Alandete said he’s watching the New York Times’ project closely.
“Of course we are worried,” he said. “We are worried about everyone that wants to open in Spanish, because its competition, and the New York Times is a newspaper of reference.”
Print in decline
Meanwhile, the New York Times is in the process of examining its newsroom structure to determine where there might be cost savings to be had. It’s an exercise that has quickened the newsroom’s collective pulse, with some journalists and departments wondering whether they should feel vulnerable.
Their anxiety certainly wasn’t tempered by an announcement last month that a Paris operation long responsible for the New York Times’ international print edition would be shut down, pending a French labor review process, in a move the company characterized as necessary to its ongoing digital transformation.
Editing and production functions for the the International New York Times are being moved to New York and Hong Kong, with a proposed 70 out of 113 Paris-based jobs to be axed. If all goes as planned, the paper is slated to be redesigned and relaunched in the fall, but Kahn and Dunbar-Johnson wouldn’t divulge any details except to say it will be heavy on enterprise reporting and analysis as opposed to the day’s breaking news.
And what about the $50 million that just landed in NYT Global’s lap?
Kahn said the money will be spent on overseas pilot projects; research, analytics and audience development needs related to the international expansion; and staffing, starting with six senior leadership positions in key areas including data, advertising and operations.
“There are a lot of claims on that money already,” he said. “We’re not gonna have trouble dispensing it.”
Joe Pompeo and Alex Spence