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New York Times Web site HUGELY popular, but not profitable

NYT Web site not profitable

NYT Web site not profitable

What if you built it, and they came, but it wasn’t enough? The New York Times radically rebuilt its Web portal, resulting in the world’s 12th most visited Web site. But its digital advertising revenues are diving, and New York’s most famous gray lady is counting on new Web revenue to replace print ad income that’s probably gone forever.

In August 2007, NYT executives decided to make “a swift investment in experimental online journalism before it was too late.”They began a Web development lab and staffed it with “creative technologists”and, cliché aside, removed the walls between print and the Web. The result was 50.8 million unique Web visitors in 2008.

The NYT encouraged visitors to react to NYT Web material with their own content. One example was the Word Train on election day. Thousands of visitors described their feelings with one color coded word, resulting in a constantly changing Web milieu of red and blue emotion

Popular, though, hasn’t resulted in profit. NYT said its digital ad revenue was down 3.5 percent for 2008’s fourth quarter. The entire year of 2008 saw a total earning decline of 48 percent for perhaps the world’s best known news organization. On Wednesday, the newspaper reported similar numbers for the first quarter of 2009.

“Despite this massive cultural shift at the Times, no one had yet figured out how to, in that hideous term, “monetize”online readers, ” comments New York magazine.

The recession, of course, is more than dampening NYT efforts to monetize its Web site. Another major hindrance to profitability may be that the paper’s Web site seeks user content, which advertisers are skittish about, says a Media Predictions Report from Deloitte US. The report says, “Advertisers are generally reluctant to place ads next to any content that could damage a client’s brand. So to generate revenue, sites may need to start charging to upload or share content.”

The irony for the NYT is that several years ago it stopped charging to access its Web site.

–Michael Blankenheim

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