The publisher of the New York Times sure woke up lots of people in an otherwise sleepy week in the news publishing world (waiting for the second, or is it the fifth (?) Tribune shoe to drop). What did he say? The obvious, many of us think (other than his five-year-timeline), but he sounded like he had a bit of fight in him.
"I really don’t know whether we’ll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don’t care either," he told Israel daily Haaretz at Davos in January. "Internet is a wonderful place to be and we’re leading there."
Some of the numbers seem positive. 1.1 million print subscribers and 1.5 million readers online each day. Average age in print: 42. Average age online: 37. It's great to hear the optimism. Read the interview though and you'll see it's short on any specifics of how a company that still has about 90% of its revenue coming from print is going to make the transformation to mainly digital revenue-driven operation.
That's the problem we keep coming back to. Sure, you can capture some of the many readers moving to wholesale to web reading, but the revenues may well be more than five years of penciling out. Use the numbers from Ann Moore, Time, Inc CEO, who recently told an SIIA NYC assemblage that each Sports Illustrated subscriber is worth $118 per year, but that SI.com visitors only provide $5. That's a wide gulf.
Newspaper revenue metrics are too depressingly similar.
Further the Times has to deal with the red ink tumbling down from Boston and Worcester (remember those who wondered why the Times wasn't bidding for the Philadelphia Inquirer -- now we can clearly see why). That's not Red Sox fans showing off their pride, but a harbinger of the near-future. Yes, near-monopoly dailies can fail to make a profit. (For experience with that, just check in on the recent history of the San Francisco Chronicle, losing a mill a week or so for several years.)
Yes, the next five years may tough ones. And those economics are enough to leave away long into the night. Or in the conjecture of Valleywag, likely to encase you in a velvet cubicle, as the site snarkily speculates on NYT Digital head Martin Nisenholtz's career dilemma.
Why does Martin stay? What does it matter what Pinch says? Because it's the Times.
As one large regional daily after another reduces national and international coverage, we're all increasingly dependent on the Times for coverage, for finding out what's happening. So good for Pinch, good that he said it. Like the disappearance of such legends as Knight Ridder and maybe Tribune, it's now imaginable to have a world without a print New York Times -- as long as we have its journalism.