TimesSelect’s first 150k

TimesSelect logo

Editor and Publisher reports that TimesSelect gets 156,000 web subscribers in the first 4 months which is among the 390,000 total web subscription base.

At $49.95 a pop, that’s a $7.3 million and $19.5 million respectively. Doesn’t sound bad, certainly not the way the article puts it.

Sometimes the glass is half empty

I’ve been pessimistic about the enterprise. So let’s look at this another way.

I’m going to assume here that E&P got the numbers right. It is easy to miss that there is a difference between TimesSelect’s subscriber base and the paying TimesSelect subscriber base. Remember that all print subscribers get TimesSelect for free. The numbers seem correct to me, and that is should be worrying however…

That revenue is recognized over the year, so if they keep this clip, it’s $29.2 million/year, enough to keep a small startup cash flow positive, but the Times? The Times is a company with thousands of employees that books over $3 billion dollars in revenue a year and has nearly the same amount of expenses/year. $29.2 million is nice and tidy, but it is a drop in the bucket—I wonder if their online impressions/click-thru ad revenue suffered as a result of the transition. How come New York Times isn’t crowing about that? (I know personally I have stopped reading their op-ed and have switched to the Post.)

(Let’s see, they purchased About.com last year for $410 million, how many years would TimeSelect’s subscription revenue take to pay that off?)

The print circulation of the Gray Lady has consistently hovered around 1.1 million on weekdays and 1.6 million for the Sunday Times. From this perspective, “adding” a half million subscribers might not sound that bad, especially since you don’t have to print anything.

But look at those numbers again. Fully 1/4 of their existing online-only subscriber base must have transitioned to TimesSelect so far. This means in practical terms they would have had around 312,000 subscribers had they done nothing at all. Net/net TimesSelect is giving them at best 80,000 subscribers/quarter. I would believe that number is true in a heartbeat since I know at least one person who purchased a subscription when they locked out the Op-Ed. Unfortunately, that anecdote implies that this is 80,000 subscribers/year as opposed to a trend as anyone who needed the Times would have switched by the first quarter. I would bet even money that they’ll lose more than $4 million this year in “cpm” style ad revenue alone.

Hey, it’s a start—a good start. The problem is by changing to this pay-first model you have nowhere to go from here. You’re not Apple so there is no way to use your iPod or Macintosh business to sell more dotMac subscriptions. Are we to believe that the users of a free “expert” service like About.com will suddenly be drawn to NYTimes.com resources that they can’t even see unless they plunk down a credit card first? Or are we to believe that there are millions of college students and faculty who will sign up for the new $24.95/year price?

Hmm, the person I know who bought TimesSelect is a faculty member at a university. I should tell him about that deal…

Times has great design

This is unrelated to this blog entry, but something I noticed in passing when looking at the TimesSelect logo. Have you noticed how once you get past the front page, the New York Times has some great, modern design/layout and has for years? It is even evidenced in their logo: they had to balance a modern font and color choice and put it right under their recognizable, but staid Times logo. The orange was chosen so that the icon of “paid-only” can be immediately noticed on the Times on the Web’s website.

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