Interview with Janet Robinson,
CEO of The New York Times Company
I recently sat, quite literally in fact, on a sofa with Janet Robinson, the CEO of The New York Times to talk about paid content, intellectual property rights for news publishers and the future of paid content as the market shifts from search to mobile apps.
She had just given a lecture at the World Editors Forum in Hamburg and Editors Weblog editor Emma Heald and I deftly arranged to interview her in the room we were using for film interviews with editors-in-chief.
We bypassed the hoard of Euro TV reporters who tried to corner her as she came off the stage and quietly slipped her past the mob to join us in our discreet interview bunker where it would just be just be me, Emma, a student journalist, and Janet (Well Janet AND her two PA’s – one from the U.S. and another from Paris.)
We talked for about 20 minutes about many issues and Emma has written previouslyabout some of those ideas – in particular about the Time’s approach to trying to do thing differently.
Below is the running Q&A from a very interesting seven minute section of our cozy chat.
Note: Feel free to attribute quotes from this article, but kindly remember to credit them to this author and or link to this original document. These quotes were not made at a press conference. These are not “pool quotes.”
“What do you think about the paid content strategy of “The Times of London?”
“I’ve been asked this question a lot. I don’t know how they prepared, to be quite honest.
It’s not my place to talk about The Times of London did or did not do or the success they are having or not having. What I can tell you is that we (The New York Times) have spent two years preparing for our metered model.
And I think the way we feel about the metered model, it’s still allows us to be part of the open Web ecosystem. And in light of that, people of course, as I noted, can come into the site and enjoy free content before they are asked to pay, to become a paid subscriber.
I’m not sure whether the Times of London did that.
And I don’t think you enter into a paid model business, you know, like we are entering into, unless you do very careful research and really making sure you understand how your consumer interacts with your content.
I wouldn’t advise anyone in that audience to go to a paid model, until they do their homework. Until they really think through what they need to do.
So if there are people that are contemplating moving to a paid model (and I think more will, as people gain more courage in regard to people changing their habits about buying news and information on the web) I would advise them, you know, very, very expansively to make sure they look at what they need to do to prepare.
And that means talking to your readers.
We had, you know, Times Select, which was a very successful paid model. People, I think, are a little bit confused about Times Select. It was a very successful paid model. We garnered $10 million in one year. 780,000 subscribers.
That’s not a bad showing, let’s put it that way.”
“But in the end, you could make more money on the open Web?”
Robinson: “Yes. You could grow your audience, and you could certainly garner more advertising, at a time when search had become so predominant as a way to use the web.
So that is exactly why we pulled Times Select down.
But now, I think, because . . . ‘how many apps do you buy?’ I know how many I buy. I buy a lot, you know, and there’s every reason to see there is a behavior change in the consumer when indeed you have a service that centers around news and information. When indeed, that’s beginning to change, I do think people are going to be more open to paying for content that richly deserves to be paid for.”
“We’re here in Hamburg where Axel Springer and other European publishers have united to draft the ‘Hamburg Declaration‘ to seek stronger copyright protection for news publishers in Europe. Does copyright law need to be strengthened in the U.S. to empower publishers of news there?
Robinson: “I think, well I’m somewhat familiar with what’s happening here in Europe in regard to IP protection and making sure that indeed sources are very carefully monitored. I do think that the United States is becoming more aggressive in regard to IP monitoring, and I believe it’s long overdue.
I think you’re going to see much more governmental interest in indeed what intellectual property is going to be. And just individual companies banding together more I think in regard to intellectual property protection.
I think that the group here in Europe have been very pro-active, including Axel Springer, in forcing the issue and getting a great deal of publicity around it, which I think has probably served them well.
But I’ll be interested to see how that rolls out going forward.
I would caution though, that there are partnerships that indeed we didn’t dream of ten years ago. Not every partner is an enemy, and I think sometimes people feel as though that everyone that indeed has, you know, some bearing with regard to intellectual property or they may have a bone to pick with them in regard to intellectual property, they are necessarily an enemy.
I wouldn’t say that. I think that it really is incumbent upon the companies themselves to work with, you name them: Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, whoever they may be, in regard to setting the terms in which you will work with them.
I think the more we do that, the more pro-active we are as news and media companies, in setting the stage, and in setting the ground rules, the better off we are going to be.
And they can be very successful and very lucrative partnerships for both.
I just think people have to understand it a bit better.”
“One more thing… What are your future plans for the iPad?”
Robinson: There will be a full coverage — right now, the New York Times app is ‘Editor’s Choice,’ that is going to be taken down or phased out in the November time frame, because we are going to put a new app up that will be full coverage of The New York Times. We wanted to be very much part of the launch, the very initial launch. That’s why we did ‘Editor’s Choice.’
It’s been very successful. Over 600,000 downloads, but we want a full app. What we now want is for that to be a paid app. So when we go to the paid model at the beginning of next year, that app will be paid for. You also are going to see a Boston Globe app, an IHT (International Herald Tribune) app. You’re going to see an IHT navigator. That’s going to be coming in the fall November time frame as well. So we have plans to do many more applications that we think will be of great service to the reader with all of our properties.
“Some details about the app? Will users get a daily download and be able to read offline or will they need a data connection to get content? Will subscriptions be bundled?”
Robinson: “Well, we are going to bundle — you can buy the app separately — but we are going bundle many of our products together. So if you are a home delivery subscriber, and you would like an iPhone app as part of a bundle, you will have that opportunity to pay for it that way.
We’ll have all digital access, so you can have the website, the iPad app, the iPhone app, Kindle, any combination thereof. That’s what we’re working on right now. So in, I would say early December, you’re going to see the full explanation with regard to the meter, full explanation with regard to the pricing, and full explanation with regard to the bundle.”