Home » Disruptive Innovation » The New York Times wants to save itself by becoming like Netflix

The New York Times wants to save itself by becoming like Netflix

16 February 2017

From recode:

You probably know someone who makes sniping remarks like: Old media is dying! They were too stupid to notice the internet! They’re snobs and stuck in the past!

The real story is much more complicated, journalist Gabriel Snyder said on the latest episode of Recode Media with Peter Kafka. In the latest issue of Wired, Snyder wrote about how one of the highest-profile media companies in the world, the New York Times, is “claw[ing] its way into the future.”

“The reason old media companies have so much trouble adapting is not because they don’t know what to do or even that they should do it, it’s [that] the internal politics of it are so difficult to navigate,” Snyder said. He noted that career advancement at the NYT is a “slow-moving treadmill” that rewards loyalty over fresh ideas.

And that’s not to mention the more obvious, public face of the newspaper’s struggle: Where the money comes from.

“Even today, the vast majority of the revenue comes from old streams at the New York Times,” Snyder said. “It comes from the print circulation, even their print advertising. The industry fell off a cliff last year, but it still generates a lot of money. You can’t just turn that off, and if you do, it’s at your peril.”

The NYT initially tried to convince readers to subscribe to separate products based around opinion columns, daily news, crosswords and cooking, but each of those was met with “varying levels of un-success,” Snyder said. So, instead, it’s now thinking it can emulate the Netflix, HBO or Amazon subscription model — packing more and more into one subscription product to increase its perceived value.

Link to the rest at recode and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

PG says the best way to succeed during an era of continuing disruptive innovation is to increase actual value rather than attempt to increase perceived value.

Perceived value sounds like a desperate idea from marketing.

Disruptive Innovation

30 Comments to “The New York Times wants to save itself by becoming like Netflix”

  1. In the tech world that is called specsheet engineering. Letting the marketing folks design the product by emphasizing the number of bullet items they can cite on the specsheet instead of designing for quality or value-add.

    Sometimes it works. For a while.
    Most commonly the product thuds.

    • +1 Every marketing department’s bullet points are the same. Even if you are adding value, you end up releasing products with no competitive advantage.

    • Isn’t this what the software world calls vaporware?

      • Vaporware only exists as demos and specsheets.

        Specsheet engineering is adding “features” that aren’t used or are more trouble than it’s worth just to make the specsheet longer or more impressive to the unwary. It is the opposite of the KISS principle.

        The product itself exists but ends up uncompetitive for being bulky or expensive or late to market.

        Think of epub3: announced in 2011 and it’s still not fully implemented in any ereader or ebookstore. Looks impressive as a spec but its been useless as a product.

        • Put another way: a product designed for marketers instead of users. Looks great on paper but lacks actual value.

  2. “The New York Times wants to save itself by becoming like Netflix”

    First step would be to actually have something people ‘want’. Netflix has movies and stuff, what does the NYTs have that’s worth paying for?

    I mean besides rigged ‘best seller’ lists and ADS? 😉

    • I like much of what the Times puts on its website, but I hate the pop-ups asking me to subscribe. If they’d lower the cost, I would do so — but an annual price far higher than Amazon Prime for digital access has zero appeal. A WaPo subscription (with a price cut for Prime members) is perfect. It’s easy to work around the Times’ limited articles per month.

      • Like me and TV, Spectrum (Time Warner) and AT&T (Dish) ‘want me back’, but I looked at what little I was watching and couldn’t consider them worth paying over a dollar per hour per show (yes, that little TV time.) Even over the air TV isn’t worth it with the ads cutting in.

        Too many ways out there to get your news and be entertained for little or no extra cost if you have a good internet connection (and I don’t have to time-slot that ebook that looked interesting.)

        So TV/online papers get ‘glanced at’, but even that would stop at a paywall.

        • I have Sling TV for about $20 per month. It has a lot of channels, but I mostly watch CNN and HGTV. Via my Roku 3 I get NBC for free (with ads) and CBS all-access for about ten bucks per month (this is the no-ads version; it’s about $5 cheaper if you accept the ads). I opted for CBS streaming because a spin-off of The Good Wife is being made available only online. When the series ends, I’ll unsubscribe. And, of course, I have Amazon Prime videos. It’s impossible for me to watch even a fraction of what I have available because I’m usually running CNN night and day.

  3. Both actual AND perceived value are critically important to any sustained success. And actual value does not automatically translate into perceived value. I work in an industry where one of our competitors (the one on top) consistently fails to beat us in consumer satisfaction surveys, percentage of returns, and price point, yet their products have greater perceived value than ours.

    Same with Apple products (although that is finally changing.) Outside of iMac monitors (which are breathtaking), there is no hardware or speed advantage to a Mac, or the iPhone, they run less software, are harder to service, and are four times as expensive, yet the perceived value is much, much greater, due to excellent marketing.

    The New York Times thinks they have actual value, and that the issue is perceived value, so that’s what they are addressing.

    • Too bad they’re wrong on both counts.
      As the article points out, their real problem is the corporate culture.

  4. The NYT’s problem is that they’re no longer generally considered authoritative for news. They’re baldly partisan politically, cater to urban demographics, and a sizeable portion of newspaper readers wouldn’t use it for birdcage liner, much less as a source for news.

    Deliberately alienating about half of your potential readership isn’t a way to get your circulation up. And that’s not just sales fluctuation; they’ve lost those customers forever.

    • My husband and I recently moved from Long Island to Cambridge, Massachusetts. During the move, we asked our NY landlord (primary residence in the city, second home in the Hamptons–you know, a “Citiot”) if we could use some of her NYT papers to stuff our glassware, and she said, “Sure. I don’t read them, but half of my neighbors do so I said what the heck.”

      So for some people it’s a signaling thing. I don’t know what that signal is or why one might want it, but there ya go.

    • And they’re OK with losing those customers. Publisher Sulzberger and Managing Editor Baquet have made a deliberate decision to chase away their more conservative readers in the hopes of earning the devotion of the Jon Stewart crowd, which likes its news biased and sarcastic. In a way, it’s similar to the move that CBS made at the beginning of the 1970s, canceling their aging but still popular “rural” shows (Gomer Pyle, etc.) in favor of programs like All in the Family which were considered more “hip” and more appealing to an urban audience. The NYT, like CBS, is gambling that a once powerful demographic is fading and can be safely jettisoned. Ultimately, CBS made the correct call; it remains to be seen if the NYT will be as lucky.

      • All the news that fits the agenda, I guess?

        Is there anything published about this strategy change? I have found their partisanship to be noticeably more overt recently, and suspected that it was a strategy, but haven’t seen them admit it anywhere.

  5. Sadly, pretty much how TRX calls it. I believe that they took an enormous hit during the last election cycle in terms of the blatant partisanship for one DNC candidate over another. I don’t know how many subscribers they lost, but I do know that I cancelled when I realized how awful their bias really was.

    I didn’t blame them for having Amazon Derangement Syndrome too much- they did pretty much pull Streetfield off the beat-but how ALL of the op ed writers, and the general editorial articles were so biased for HRC was sad.

    And so, after a half century of loyal readership, I cancelled. They lost my trust.

    So, yeah, what TRX said: they’re no longer, by any stretch ‘The Paper of Record’ that they used to be. And you know they’re hurting financially. They’re cutting out swathes of office space in their building to rent out to other companies.

    The NYT used to ‘be somebody’… and now they’re really not much different in my mind than any of the other MSM outlets.

    • According to CNN Money on Feb. 2nd:

      The paper reported on Thursday that it added 276,000 new digital news subscriptions in the fourth quarter. That is the best quarter for the Times since 2011. On the print side, The Times added 25,000 subscribers, its best number in six years.

      • How many old subscribers did they lose?

        • Digital is growing. It’s the print side of the business that’s in trouble. I don’t know how much they’re losing in subscribers, but reports say the growth in digital isn’t enough to make up for the loss and there’ll be some layoffs fairly soon. Digital advertising money has gone up by double digits, but print advertising is down by (I think) 20% or thereabouts.

          Maybe print subscribers are leaving in disgust, or they may be switching to digital subscriptions. The Times has done a lot of discounting for digital to lure people in (though not low enough to please me), so that might be an economical decision for some (giving up print, but opting for digital). However, the decline of print is hardly just the Times’ problem. Newspapers all across the country are experiencing the same thing.

  6. As a former Associated Press reporter who’s also worked for two newspapers, I am saddened by the decline in the NY Times’s quality of reporting.

    It’s so biased that these days, when reading short excerpts on my curated cell phone feed, I often run across snide comments in news stories and immediately check. Sure enough, it’s an NYT story.

    More respect for readers and for objectivity might help build their readership. But I fear it’s too late.

    • Probably.
      As a rule an organization can have unswerving loyalty or they can have competence.

      They made their choice.

    • I am no fan of “objectivity” and all the false equivalencies it breeds or the granting of pros and cons getting equal weight when either the pros or the cons are nowhere near each other in terms of public opinion and/or the facts. I prefer realistic news coverage.

    • It’s sad and shocking to me that they would abandon the notion of attempting to be truthful and objective. They weren’t always that close to achieving it before, but there was at least a sense of that mission.

      One thing I’ve noticed among my friends, most of whom rely on the Times as their primary source of news and analysis, is that they have not perceived this shift.

      • The Times is far from my primary source of news and analysis, but I do read their content and have for years. I’m in the camp that fails to see the shift.

  7. Haven’t the NYT had a massive uptick in subscriptions since the election? Also, they’re starting up an Australian one, which is cool.

    • Yes. See my comment up-thread.

      • They DID have a massive uptick in subscriptions. So big that the CEO during an interview pointed to it.

        They ran a promotion in November titled ‘We Want You Back’ targeted at former subscribers who had cancelled their subscriptions. We got the email, and it was for full access to the NYT for 3 months FOR FREE. This promo was co-ordinated with Sulzberger’s letter to subscribers (which really said nothing) but was bandied as an apology of some sort.

        So they did a massive free give away promotion; no wonder they added more subscribers.

        People don’t hear about the orchestration, only how they added so many subscribers. Sure, it’s a great marketing move; but what’s their retention? No, I’m still convinced that they’re hurting badly.

        • Yes, that’s what I said: big increase in digital, special pricing to lure people to digital, and losing money on the print side. Meanwhile, it looks like WaPo is doing quite well, with lots of new hires coming for staffing. I read somewhere that Bezos put $50 million into the business, along with adding new features. I haven’t seen anything about how their digital and print differ re subscribers.

  8. The New York Times wants to save itself by becoming like Netflix

    LOL. They might well wind up being Blockbuster instead!. 🙂

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