NYT partners with Google to show newspaper subscribers the future

The New York Times is fast becoming an online publication that happens to print a daily paper, but that doesn’t mean it’s giving up on all the people who prefer to get the news from a stack of dead trees and dried ink instead of an app.
The paper has partnered with Google to offer that company’s virtual reality headset — which is really a glorified hunk of cardboard in which people can stick their smartphones into to get a taste of what VR can do — to its print subscribers. An app made to work with this headset will be available on November 5; the bundle of Google cardboard will be shipped to newspaper subscribers the following weekend.
This might convince some people to expand their subscriptions from the daily newspaper to the New York Times website and mobile applications. It’s also yet another way the publication will attempt to reward people who buy its paper, whether it’s by shipping this headset to subscribers or by giving newsstand customers access to its digital editions for a single day, without extra charge.
Both are win-win propositions for the Times. It recently celebrated reaching more than 1 million digital subscribers with a section dedicated to tooting its own horn. Increasing that number by convincing people to augment a print subscription with digital access or to sign up for the website after using it for a day will help the company’s revenues, image, and ability to thrive on the web.
But it seems like the New York Times is trying to keep its real, honest-to-god newspaper available for a while. That’s hardly a surprise: the paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, has reported that print revenues accounted for 70 percent of the New York Times’ revenues in 2014. That could fall as ad revenues in the physical paper fall, but the printed paper is still an important product.
Catering to people who buy that paper is supposed to keep them interested in purchasing the New York Times’ moneymaker. Last week it was about giving people limited access to the website as a reward for buying from the newsstand; this week it’s about giving people a glimpse into media’s future, with Google’s help. What else might the company do to continue printing its newspaper?
It’s clear that the New York Times cares about its digital subscribers. These last few weeks have shown that it cares about the physical paper, too, even if it’s not quite as important as it was when the publication didn’t even have a website.

Amazon hits back against NYT report on working environment

It’s been a few months since the New York Times published an in-depth look at what it’s like to work in Amazon’s corporate office. The company’s immediate reaction was limited to chief executive Jeff Bezos claiming that the workplace described in the report doesn’t resemble the one he’s come to expect. Now the company’s senior vice president for global corporate affairs, Jay Carney, has published a Medium post to add some context to the paper of record’s story.
Carney’s post centers around one grievance: That many of the former staffers quoted in the New York Times report wanted to disparage Amazon because of their own personal issues, ranging from one employee leaving the company because he allegedly tried to defraud vendors and falsify business records to another misrepresenting the feedback she received from internal feedback tools. They had an axe to grind, in other words, and the Times offered a grindstone.
Other problems were also mentioned in the post. Carney alleges that the New York Times declined to provide an update to its readers when Amazon made this information available weeks ago; that the reporters on the story didn’t seek comment from the company in response to accusations from people mentioned above; and that the paper, as its public editor has said in the past, has taken an unduly harsh stance on Amazon that has colored its coverage of the company. (Update: The New York Times’ executive editor, Dean Baquet, has responded to Carney’s post with a Medium post of his own, which you can read right here.)
But there are some other interesting things about the post: That it was published in the first place; and that one of Amazon’s spokespeople emailed it to me this morning to let me know of its existence and make sure I’d cover it.
Amazon is famously reticent about talking to the press. I’ve often reached out to the company for comment on a story only to be told that the company doesn’t have anything to say on the matter. That’s par for the course on many stories — as tech companies face more scrutiny, many have stopped accommodating press inquiries — but Amazon took this to another level. Just read this passage from a New York Times profile of Bezos written after he bought the Washington Post:

The philanthropic Bill Gates, whose wife, Melinda, served on The Post’s board, might have been a more likely buyer. Mark Zuckerberg, who adopted Donald E. Graham, the Post Company’s chief executive, as a mentor, could have been plausible. When it turned out to be Mr. Bezos instead, no one minded admitting astonishment. Neither his managerial style nor his entrepreneurial success nor his passion for secrecy seem to necessarily transfer over to his newest possession.

‘Every story you ever see about Amazon, it has that sentence: ‘An Amazon spokesman declined to comment,’’ Mr. Marcus said.

Drew Herdener, an Amazon spokesman, declined to comment.

This seems to have changed in recent months. I’ve noticed that Amazon is responding to more inquiries, whether they’re about new products or the spread of a worker feedback system from its warehouses to its corporate offices, when before it would have either ignored my email or declined to offer a comment. Then of course there’s the publication of this rebuttal to the Times’ reporting, and the company’s apparent desire to make sure tech reporters would read it.

Curious, I asked the Amazon spokesperson who emailed me the link to Carney’s post if Amazon’s approach to handling the press has changed. His response? “Hey Nate, thanks for the note,” he wrote, “but we’ll decline to comment beyond the piece this morning.” A question about this spokesperson seeing the irony there went unanswered, but I like to think that response was tongue-in-cheek.

Either way, the publication of Carney’s post could mark a turning point. Amazon isn’t going to rest on its laurels and allow the media to tell any story it wants anymore. Now we’ll get to see which is harder to handle — a company that doesn’t want to help the press in any way but will allow pretty much anything to be written about it, or one that will hit back against reports like the Times’.

Update: Carney has now written yet another response to the New York Time.

New York Times’ 5-year fight with patent troll may cost millions

Even as belt-tightening has led the New York Times to close sections and shed reporters, the Gray Lady is spending large sums on legal bills to fight a patent troll that claims to own the rights to sending internet links via text message.

The Times has been fighting the case since 2010, arguing that the patent is unenforceable in part because the mobile phone companies that deliver the text messages have already paid the troll, known as Helferich Patent Licensing LLC, to license it.

Even though a federal court agreed with the New York Times and tossed the claims in 2013, the case sprang back to life last month after an appeals court ruled that the patent claims are not “exhausted.” Now the Times must brace for another round of litigation.

The five-year ordeal illustrates once again the dilemma that companies like the New York Times face when confronted by patent trolls: either pay for a dubious license (in this case for sending a text message), or pay even more to go through a legal meat-grinder.

The New York Times and its lawyers would not disclose how much the company is spending on the Helferich case, but this 2013 chart produced by the American Intellectual Property Law Association shows how much these lawsuits typically cost to defend (NPE stands for non-practicing entity, a synonym for patent troll):

Troll litigation costs

Given the length and complexity of the case — docket filings show Helferich has engaged in repeated procedural jousting, and even sought to obtain sanctions against the Times and its lawyers — it’s likely that the legal bills are already in the millions.

This situation, in turn, points to the economic asymmetry that makes patent trolling so effective in the first place.

“One of the business models many NPEs leverage is offering a settlement that will cost less than at trial,” said Michael Strapp, a patent lawyer at Goodwin Proctor, who has written a guide to defending against patent trolls.

Strapp added that, while there are too many variables to predict the cost of a given case, the process of discovery — in which companies have to turn over evidence in the form of documents and testimony — drives much of the cost. Patent trolls, meanwhile, are shielded from most of these costs since they are basically shell companies with little in the way of assets or discoverable documents.

Helferich’s business model has so far been effective enough to extract reported settlements of $750,000 from the likes of Apple and Disney.

As such, by choosing to fight (in 2012 a Times lawyer, Brian Buroker of Gibson Dunn, likened the demand to a “tax on the internet”), the Times may simply be paying more to prolong its legal misery.

The Times case, however, may provide further momentum for patent reform in Congress, where senators like John Cornyn (R-Tx) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have long backed measures to rein in patent trolls, in part by reforming the discovery process that makes it easy for trolls to extract settlements.

The case also comes at a time of growing scholarly evidence that patent trolls don’t result in innovation, as their defenders claim, but instead force productive companies to cut operations and R&D.

A lawyer for Helferich, whose operations appear to consist of no more than law offices in Arizona and Chicago, did not immediately return a request for comment.

While others shut down comments, the NYT wants to expand them

While many other media organizations have gotten rid of their reader comments, including Reuters and Bloomberg, the New York Times says it plans to expand its commenting features and invest more resources in them because they help create a valuable relationship with readers

Two great examples of how journalism has changed for the better

The power of amateur or “citizen” journalism becomes obvious when you look at two recent examples: one being the tracking of military activity in Ukraine, and the other the effort by residents of one of Rio’s biggest slums to document police violence

David Carr’s death has silenced a unique and powerful voice

David Carr, a former crack cocaine addict who recovered and became the widely celebrated media writer for the New York Times, died Thursday — and with his passing, the world lost a kind and generous man and a powerful media voice

Guardian digital editor is right — ending comments is a mistake

Guardian digital editor and former New York Times staffer Aron Pilhofer says media outlets are making a monumental mistake by ending comments, instead of focusing on how they can use them to build a true community and two-way relationship with their readers