Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Los Tiempos De Mierda
Advertising accounts for almost all of the digital operation's revenues, but disagreement rages within the company over whether NYTimes.com should emulate The Wall Street Journal and begin charging a subscription fee. Undoubtedly, many of the site's 18 million unique monthly visitors would flee if hit with a $39.95 or even a $9.95 monthly charge. One camp within the NYT Co. argues that such a massive loss of Web traffic would cost the Times dearly in the long run, both by shrinking the audience for its journalism and by depriving it of untold millions in ad revenue. The counterargument is that the Times would more than make up for lost ad dollars by boosting circulation revenue -- both from online fees and new print subscriptions paid for by people who now read for free on the Web.
It utterly galls me to pay for the dead tree edition, although as I've noted occasionally I do pick it up at the train station in the AM if the Journal isn't there yet (occasionally, I notice that the coffee concessionaires bring coffee out to the train crew at one particular stop, I'm wondering if I could prevail upon the crew to ask if they could bring a Journal out; wishful thinking, I know). I usually read the Sulzberger Entity online over morning coffee, or if circumstances don't permit, I wait until someone discards it on the outbound train and peruse it then. The reason I'm loathe to pay for it is obvious, given their bias and snootiness, but I suppose that they are entitled to some revenue. However, I'm not about to spring for a web subscription. No way. I don't do it for the Journal, a paper which I actually find useful and aligned with my opinions, and I'm certainly not about to do it for the Times.
The Times is dreadfully out of touch with its native environment. One look at its long-standing multimedia exercise will tell you that. The Times has owned WQXR since time immemorial and if you happen to be an opera fan, you're in luck. However, there are lots of classical fans who don't like opera (if I happen to hear it come on in any context I'll ask why they're playing the Luftwaffe Serenade?) Unsurprisingly I have very catholic (notice the lower-case 'c', not meaning the religion) tastes in classical music, Bach and Mozart being my preferred listening, although I've got soft spots for Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann. The problem with WQXR is that it's geared toward an aging audience who likes a very familiar set list ("La Boheme" is too much of a drag for me, thank you), and it's sound is awful, sort of like listening to a Dolby-encoded cassette with the Dolby circuit disengaged. There are plenty of exciting classical pieces out there that a good program director could sequence to actually interest people, but unfortunately the Times is only interested in establishing its pretentiousness through demonstrating its cultural superiority.
The Times' local coverage is spotty if anything happens outside its zone of comfort (meaning anywhere between the Battery and 96th Street). If some major event happens out in Bridge and Tunnel Land guaranteed the Times' story will be constructed in such a way as to allow the dazzling urbanites to understand what we the profanum vulgus do with our pitiful bungalows and non-enriching children's activities; while delivering nothing but contempt for those of us who merely use Manhattan as a place to work. Needless to say, the Times sells poorly in outlying areas, perhaps only increasing a bit on Sundays (the only things I consistently enjoy out of that paper being Safire's "On Language" column, a must-read, and of course the crossword puzzle, which has been devilishly tough lately). I don't suppose that anything will help the Times increase its share against the other tabloids in the area, which is a darned shame. The biggest problem I have with the tabloids is that while I generally agree with them editorially, the writing stinks. Oh, there are the occasionally reprints of glorious writers such as Victor Davis Hanson, but the vast majority is simply dull recitations, and call me an intellectual snob, I like the way people like Buckley and Safire write. In it's own way it's inspired me (although I wouldn't dare to compare myself to these gentlemen).
The advertising is of course an interesting indicator of how the newspaper is doing. If one eliminates the fungible ads (in other words, those that are duplicated or interchangeable between the papers, say things like cell phone ads from the major carriers) one notices an interesting dynamic in the ads. The Times' ads tend to be from high-end emporia, places like Bloomingdales and Fortunoff's (along with some declasse high class emporia such as Macy's and Lord & Taylor, even though they've committed the unpardonable sins of establishing beachheads in Bridge and Tunnel Land). Said emporia don't necessarily cater to we the profanum vulgus. Something which I find extremely funny, as I remember Fortunoff's original store on Livonia Avenue in Brooklyn (a neighborhood that is decidedly dicey now and was very iffy back then), and still think of them as nothing more than a glorified lamp seller. Lots of high-end ads for the carriage trade, but as anyone can tell you, depending on the carriage trade for your business can be a dicey model (it works OK for Nieman Marcus, but look at FAO Schwarz).
As to whether the Times survives in its online edition, I don't know. I can put up with a few pop-up ads (that's what Pop-Up Stopper is for, and if they do a redirect here, or some Flash thingie there, I suppose I can get around it) to read the Entity. It's simply a case of knowing the enemy. I should note that I make a point of reading the Editorial / Op-Ed page thoroughly, for as infuriating as it is, Krugman, Dowd and Friedman et al need to be read so that their nonsense can quickly be refuted before it becomes a gospel.
I can imagine the headline though, "Times Discontinues Online Edition; Women, Minorities Most Affected, Along With Cheapskate Conservative Bloggers"
The aggro quotient increases rapidly today. Updates later.....