Interview: Martin Nisenholtz, SVP-Digital, NYTCO

[Staci D. Kramer] Earlier today, the New York Times Company announced the upcoming launch of TimesSelect, a premium product that will place a large chunk of the flagship paper’s most distinctive content behind a subscription wall. “We’ve had a small but millions of dollors revenue stream in paid content for the last 10 years,” Martin Nisenholtz, SVP-Digital Operations, told me during an interview this afternoon. That’s not enough to make up for advertising when the cycles change. “We want to create a second robust revenue stream,” he explained, filling me in on some of the details and answering key questions about the timing, advertising and the blogosphere. One aspect of the plan is specifically for bloggers — an affiliate program a la Amazon. (Sorry, no audio this time.)

On the timing: NYT.com has offered premium products for nearly 10 years, including archive access and crosswords. The planning for this particular offering has been underway since late last year, with considerable research, including at least two online surveys. “We all know at some point in the future the advertising revenue streams flowing online are going to start to mature and (by launching this now) we’re going to be better prepared at that time.”

On closing the gates: “The vast part remains open and free but our distinct voice is now a pay product.”

On advertising: Nisenholtz says the company’s experience with registration bodes well for advertiser reception to a more targeted audience, a tier on top of a tier, and that higher CPMs are possible.
“I do think that the advertising community will look favorably on folks who are willing to step up and pay; after all, the premium rates we get now are in part because we’ve always been a registration site. We have almost 10 years of registration experience because we went way out on a limb.” The Times will maintain its current standards about advertising near Op-Ed columnists but the other columnists might become an advertising draw.

On no extra charge for print subscribers: “It’s part of the value of the print product. We see this overall as a Times-brand customer issue, not necessarily anything else. If you’re subscribing to the Times newspaper, it’s only right you should get access to this product.” As for any idea that this might be a tool to keep print subscribers from going online only, “the rationale for creating this product is to create a big, new revenue stream for the web site — we did not create this product nor are we launching it to serve a newspaper goal.” The duplication factor is approximately 18 percent.

On balancing reach and revenue:When I say, we want to have our cake and eat it, too, we want to grow our inventory on the free part of the site at the same time as we continue to grow our revenue streams. That’s going to be a balancing act.” He hopes to increase some reach by bringing more print subscribers online. (New acquisition About also plays an important role; more on that in another post.)

On an affiliate program: We also hope to roll out an affiliate program so the long tail can create a revenue stream for itself. If you’re a blogger who uses a lot of Times Op-Ed content in your blog you can continue to (by subscribing to TimesSelect)… and, through an affiliate network, extend that to their base and they can make money on the backend off that. We think the blogosphere needs more revenmue streams.”

On the archives: Initially, the archives will go back only to 1980 but eventually to 1851. The delay in full access is due to technical issues. Nisenholtz does not see this as competition for commercial databases Lexis-Nexis, Factiva, etc. He describes it as a “consumer” archives for looking up recipes or single articles, “not a highly robust research tool.” He sees this as a major draw. “We’re doing something people have wanted for a decade, which is to open up the archive. Now you can pay us $50 a year and have seamless access to the most valuable archive on the web.”