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August, 2007

What's the New York Times up to?

So it looks like the New York Times experiment with TimesSelect is going to come to an end. This doesn't surprise me, as I never thought it was a very good idea in the first place. There's plenty of commentary on the decision, including a thoughtful breakdown of the error in strategic judgment by the Times. Seamus of at Virtual Economics adds a bit more insight writing, "This is about reducing the incentive for NYT's key asset - its writers - to strike out on their own as so many of the best newspaper writers have already done . . . Possibly that day has been put off a little longer by this latest move."

This is a key shift in the world at the moment. People are creating powerful personal brands on the back of their employer. Iain pointed out a similar trend in the agency world: "all of the really good people seem to have their own game going on. They’ve either started their own small companies, or they’re freelancing and living the life that they want, on their terms. (Or they’re heading that way fast and using their next jump or two as an experience-farming exercise). Which means that it’s quite tricky to get them to come and work for wages in a company." Thanks to a number of factors ranging from the low cost of publishing/owning your own media space (mostly in the form of a webpage) to better communication/networking skills, people are competing with the companies they once worked for.

The big problem for their companies are that they're working on much smaller margins. When you only need to support yourself and have next to no overhead, your revenue needs are far lower (it's all relative after all). On top of this, the people many companies are searching for (the "mini-CEO" Iain describes) are exactly the type of people they'll have trouble retaining. Seems to me that companies, like most other businesses, are going to take a serious look at how they're structured and do a better job of creating an environment where employees are doing more than "experience-farming."

Part Two

Okay, now onto the second portion of this entry where I praise the Times. On three occaisions over the last few weeks I have been surprised to find myself at the Times (or surprised by what I was seeing).

  1. iPhone the Musical: Times gadget guy David Pogue does a song and dance about the iPhone. It's got 220,000 views on YouTube and is a perfect example of how to use a media audience to snap something into virality.
  2. Bree, We Knew and Knew Ye: This is another Times blog moment. In this one they write about the death of lonelygirl15 (who got started a year ago). What impressed me was that the entry embedded a video from Myspace. Can you imagine a situation even two years ago where one major media outlet was embedding content that drove to another major media outlet? I've often said that the biggest difference between web 1.0 and 2.0 is that in 2.0 links don't open in new windows: You trust your audience can find their way back.
  3. Freakonmics: Last, but not least, is today's announcement that the Freakonomics blog is moving over to NYTimes.com. I just noticed yesterday that Freakonomics had something like 110,000 subscribers which must be a nice little score for the Times. Not sure what the deal looks like, but clearly it's an opportunity for both parties.

I don't think blogs = strategy by any means, however, these three developments seem to signal different steps forward in an industry that desperately needs to redefine its business.

August 8, 2007
Noah Brier | Thanks for reading. | Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk.