Why Does the Times Down-Sell Instead of Sell Itself?

Nat Ives reported a few days ago in Ad Age that the NY Times Digital edition’s Share of Newspaper Sites’ Traffic Hit a 12 Month Low! Various spokespeople argued about the interpretation of the data and pointed out that the Times has only lost minimal traffic since the erection of the paywall. Category definitions…blah, blah, blah.

What the article doesn’t talk about is the fact that the New York Times needs to sell themselves to their next generation of users…and hasn’t. When the Times’ audience was metro New York they could count on the daily visibility of the Times on newsstands to reinforce the brand. But with a national…nay, a global audience they need to sell the virtues and benefits of the Times (and of being a Times reader) to a new, younger, hipper but increasingly aspirational audience.


The New York Times owns one of the great brands in the world. But they treat it shabbily, finding ways to decrease the price (buy the weekender and get the digital as a gift with purchase) rather than increase the perceived value. Getting the children of historic Times readers is not enough. They need to increase their share in every market in America and globally and do it quickly. And you can’t grow share by discounting your brand. If they don’t I fear that the brutalities of economics will destroy this incredible institution and resource and all we’ll be left with is some version of a McPaper.


NPR has seemingly found a way to do this….they are at all-time highs for audience. That entity which my kids used to call “National Parent Radio” is now their critical source for news and insight. And, as they enter their mid 20’s they are increasingly interested in that more expansive view.   (They have also come to love Garrison Keeler, but that’s a different story altogether.) The Times has not reinvented their magic as a digital news source….with far more and usually better coverage…than anyone.


Their reporters and columnists have great credibility and gravitas using the printed word, but they have not realized that we are irrevocably in an era where sight and sound counts for more than Times Roman 10. The Daily (News Corp) has begun to figure this out with a regular set of editorial voices…real voices….to compliment their ‘printed’ word.


Broadcast journalism is largely constrained by the clock. Internet journalism is neither clock nor space limited. Internet journalism will offer the consumer ever deeper layers rather than a linear stream. Stories will be created to explicate in increasingly tight concentric circles rather than along a straight line. But even with this journalism of tomorrow (or shouldn’t it be of today?) they have to tell/sell their story to an audience that doesn’t come by the Times genetically.


Entering new markets with essentially new products has always been a job for real marketers. Will the real marketers at the NY Times please step front and center and really sell that puppy so that it is there for us all for years and years to come.