Thursday, July 21st, 2011
12

Horrible 'Times' Spam Farm Gets What It Deserves

About.com, the content farm owned by the Times and one of the worst things on the Internet, looks like it's finally in trouble, due in large part to Google taking action against the Garbagenet. (These outfits depend on search results.) And also: advertisers realizing there are better ways to spend money than advertising against an empty void. In the second quarter of this year, About.com shed staff and now their real operating costs are $13.1 million; their operating profit is down 24% from last year, to $11.6 million. (That's less than $4 million a month.) To be fair, this is still a "real business": The About Group had revenues of $59 million year-to-date, so hey, I'd take it, but the writing is on the wall for this as a visionary business. It's not. It's bad for the Internet and not even that great for your wallet. There's a number of not-so-great numbers at the Times, just released today for the second quarter, but let's look at the interesting numbers: who subscribes online?

"Paid digital subscribers": 224,000.

"Paid e-reader subscribers": 57,000.

Free digital subscribers ("paid for" by a sponsor): 100,000.

"Home-delivery subscribers with free linked digital accounts": 756,000.

So that's 1,037,000 people paying, in one way or another, to access the Times online, though the vast majority of them are actually paying for the physical newspapers, and getting the digital version for "free." (And what's more: a number of those are paying for just the weekend paper, not the daily paper.)

And "circulation" is down from 2011 to 2010. The Times puts it this way: "the rate of home-delivery circulation declines slowed moderately, as we observed an uptick in new home-delivery orders and a decrease in attrition following the launch as print subscribers of all frequencies receive all digital access at no additional cost." The use of the word "uptick" is funny there, given that the number of subscribers is, you know, on a decline. The point being: only a slightly fewer number of people actually stopped getting the paper, and also some started getting the paper (*raises hand!*), just so that they could get the paper "for free" online. Not terrible; this seems according to plan! The Times Company as a whole would technically be (or, you know, in the real world, "is") making about $28 million a month—if it weren't for all those pesky write-downs that dragged it way into the hole this quarter.

But saying, as the CEO did, that digital subscriptions will provide the company “with a significant new revenue stream in the second half of this year" seems like a pretty grand over-statement. 224,000 people at $15 a month is $3.36 million; at $35 a month, that's $7.8 million. You apparently can't even pay for the staff of About.com with that—and it costs ten times that last number to actually produce the physical paper.

12 Comments / Post A Comment

On top of this, NYT has a promotion for some – eight weeks of NYT online for $.99. I think they hope this will turn into paid subscriptions, but I cannot afford $35 a month for NYT online.

Matt Langer (#2,467)

Kind of like those headlines that read "Rate of Increase in Unemployment Slows." Who's writing those? Calculus majors? You're getting excited about a derivative!

roboloki (#1,724)

@Matt Langer to be fair, derivatives are largely responsible for the bounty that surrounds us today.

mrmcd (#9,309)

I get a "digital subscription" for $0/month by deleting my browser cookies for *.nytimes.com whenever that stupid little box pops up.

Bryan Keller (#3,804)

@mrmcd Yeah, I'm wondering when they will address the worst-kept paywall workaround secret on the internet.

mrmcd (#9,309)

@Bryan Keller I sometimes convince myself that the paywall is actually all a clever way to perform economic price discrimination to extract revenue from those sufficiently altruistic or technically unsophisticated that they'll just pay $15 a month instead of spending 5 seconds clicking a few buttons on their browser, resulting in a more money without driving down total traffic.

Then I realize that these hypothetical super managers probably would be smart enough to not pay $25 Million for a pile of half broken javascript.

Mr. B (#10,093)

I'm one of the 100,000 free subscribers (thank you, Lincoln automobiles!), but I am still willing, dirt-poor as I am, to cough up the $0.50 a day once the free period runs out at the end of this year. Because I really can't imagine an internet without the Times.

Although, what with the demise of Borders and all, this sort of news just stokes my paranoia that The Man is conspiring to take away stuff I like.

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

It's easy if you try. (It looks more like Potterville.)

Mr. B (#10,093)

@dntsqzthchrmn: That link is great (and 10 years old!), but, still, the alternative is what, Yahoo News or the British press, basically? Which, no.

Vikings say what? (Oh, I'm sorry. You're being serious.)

flossy (#1,402)

It probably doesn't help that one can spend all of 5 seconds downloading a bookmarklet that bypasses the NYTimes.com paywall and just read the damn thing for free?

migraineheadache (#1,866)

I really wish there was a cheaper "just the facts" option where you got access to the news articles, and maybe the Opinion section, but not the "we have found a very expensive treehouse!" section.

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