December 20, 2006
Michael Golden

Ipek Cem recently talked with Michael Golden, Vice Chairman of the New York Times Company and Publisher of the International Herald Tribune about the latest developments in the media and newspaper sectors.

Ipek Cem: My guest today is Michael Golden, who is Vice Chairman of the New York Times Company, and the publisher of the International Herald Tribune. Welcome to the show.

 

Michael Golden: Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

 

Ipek Cem: It's good to have you here, and you're in such a sector. The newspaper business, and the related media businesses there is a lot of thinking going on about these sectors: What's the impact of the internet? Is the newspaper business going to dissolve? What are your thoughts on some of these trends, and how it is impacting your business?

 

Michael Golden: Well it's having fairly dramatic impact in our business. We are in a time of change. Our customers – both our readers and viewers, and our advertisers – are changing the way they use media faster than the media is changing. So the challenge for the media – and I think this applies to all media, whether we're talking about the music industry, the movie industry, the television industry, the newspaper industry, all media – our challenge is to increase the rate of change and to catch up with the way our customers are changing their habits. So we have to be willing to change what we do, to look ahead, and to adapt where people are going, and to try to determine what we think will be the important factors in the media in three years, in five years, in ten years, and to get ready for those now, and to move to them very quickly. So what we are all doing, and the New York Times Company is certainly doing it, is moving much more aggressively to electronic media: to the internet, to mobile devices, news on telephones, to these new devices that are just beginning to surface. These are new ways to read traditional print products, that are delivered in an electronic form and are different than on paper. And the speed with which we make that transition will be a large determiner of the success that we have.

 

Ipek Cem: You have, in addition to your newspaper properties at the New York Times Company, you have also about 35 web-sites which some of them are let's say your newspapers, New York Times Online, or the Boston Globe Online, but others like About.com are acquisitions and you have www.boston.com which is a different kind of a web-site. How is your revenue driven from the online segments? Is that really, the fastest growing revenue segment for you?

 

Michael Golden: Online is clearly the fastest growing. Our revenues online are growing about 30 percent a year. Our revenues off-line, in the traditional newspapers are either growing slowly, well 5 percent in the regional newspaper group, we call it, that are newspapers in particular cities in the United States. Boston and New York the larger cities are having more trouble, their revenue is either flat or actually declining a little bit.

 

Ipek Cem: And also your flagship newspaper the New York Times is now a national newspaper (Yes) as well. How is that, I have read that that has made you lose some readership in the New York area. Is that really the case? Is that impacting readership in New York?

 

Michael Golden: Yes it has impacted it. But not a lot more than has happened in other cities across the United States. In most cities in the US readership is down from what it was five years ago, ten years ago. That is the dilemma that newspapers face. But the New York Times has become a national newspaper with a real franchise in national news, international news, and cultural news. Along with very strong news in sports, business, all the sectors. But I think those three – national, international and cultural – are hallmarks of the paper and as they rise in ascendancy in the paper, there are some people in the local market that aren't as interested in that. So it has had some impact, but mainly it has followed the course of other newspapers.

 

Ipek Cem: What about in the US the rise of readers who are more familiar with Spanish? Does the New York Times Company have any plans to cater to that audience as well? So far, so far as I know, not….

 

Michael Golden: We're doing some of that in our newspapers in Florida (OK) they have some editions in Spanish, some magazines in Spanish, but we have not tried it nationally. The Spanish language audience in the United States is a very large audience, but it is not a uniform audience. It comes from different places. There are groups that have come from Mexico. There groups that have come from Cuba. There are groups that have come from other parts of South America. And they're not looking for one product. So it is actually a quite differentiated market place, and we've not seen a clear entry into that market place yet, except in perhaps our smaller publications, in Florida.

 

Ipek Cem: I'd like to come a little bit to the International Herald Tribune. You are the publisher of the International Herald Tribune. It is a newspaper we also get here in Turkey, and many, many places around the world. Is there such a thing, I always think about that, is there such a thing as a global audience? How do you cater to a global audience when you are making editorial choices, when you are making advertising choices?

 

Michael Golden: Excellent question. On the editorial. The audience research we've done – and we do a good bit of it – has shown our audience divided into three parts. Roughly equal parts. One third is Americans and American ex-pats, those travelling and living abroad. One third is other ex-pats, Turks that live in France, Japanese that live in China. And one third is national. The French in France, Turks in Turkey, Chinese in China. So as we cater to that audience, what we realise is that our audience is characterised by people who know that international events impact their life directly. Whether it's their personal life, their professional life, or their business life. And they are interested in an international perspective. Interestingly, a lot of our online audience at iht.com, comes from the United States. Now, in the United States, they could look at the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, there's a huge number of web-sites available. But they pick the International Herald Tribune because they want quickly delivered an international perspective. So when we make editorial decisions we are keenly focused on an audience that is quite mobile, that moves around the globe a lot, that is quite affluent, but it is fully aware that events that take place outside the country where they happen to be resident at the time, have a significant impact on their lives.

 

Ipek Cem: Is this causing, I mean the impact of the internet and the fact that the New York Times itself is viewed so much online, and then, of course the International Herald Tribune and the continuation of some of the editorials in the International Herald Tribune, is this making some, some of your more local reporters or editors more famous?. People like Maureen Dowd, perhaps, or Thomas L. Friedman are people that are even followed in Turkey, and their opinion is looked upon when a certain turn of events takes place in Iraq, or in Lebanon. Are you feeling this more and more? Are you also making those people international stars as well?

 

Michael Golden: Yes… I mean mainly what makes them internationally known is their perspective and their point of view, and their interesting way of looking at things. The impact has been most profound on the newspaper business, by the electronic media, whether it's television, the radio, or the internet, is that when someone picks up the newspaper, in the morning, they generally already know the major events. They know that the Pope visited Turkey, they know that there was an explosion in Iraq, they know that there was a mud-slide in the Philippines. So the newspaper doesn't tell them what happened, so much. It is putting in meaning and context. And that's the hallmark of the International Herald Tribune, the New York Times newspaper, is to tell the reader what the event means, and what's the significance of it. And these columnists that you have mentioned do that very well. They have a fascinating perspective that people highly value. So they are known as a result of their work. The internet, the books, the International Herald Tribune spreading throughout the world has expanded their renown, and their audience. We have done an interesting thing with those particular columnists, Tom Friedman, Maureen Doud, they are not available on the internet now unless you subscribe to International Herald Tribune Select, or Times Select. And we have put that behind a paid wall to develop a consumer paid news sources in the electronic media which we think is a big part of the future.

 

Ipek Cem: When you look at the newspaper business in the US, we see recently – both in the United States in terms of certain private equity groups showing interest in both the New York Times Company, and in other groups, let's say in Holland a media conglomerate was bought up by the Carlisle Group, and the KRR Group. So there is a lot of transactional activity and there is also rumours that Jack Welch is also interested in the Boston Globe

 

Michael Golden: That might be more than a rumour…

 

Ipek Cem: I am putting it like that… But also that actually the controlling family, Sulzberger family, may make the company private again. There is a lot of thoughts about the Class A shares, and the Class B shares. Are you planning an assets sale in the New York Times company?

 

Michael Golden: The New York Times Company, right now our broadcast group, eight television stations, is for sale. That's known, that's in the market place. But that's the only thing.  The family, the Sulzberger family, has no plans to change the stocks structure of the company. It has been very good for the company. It is very good for the company now. It will be good for the company into the future. But the category, the industry, is under pressure, because people see less growth in the future, and therefore the stock price is declining. They are still very profitable businesses, newspapers in the United States. But the stock price is depressed because the profitability is declining in many many cases, and because the future seems less clear than it did. When that happens, when an industry is under pressure, then you do get these activities that you reported. You get private equity looking at it. You get questions about going private. All of that is fed, and caused by, this outlook for the industry, for the media industry. But we are, at the New York Times Company, very confident of the path we are on. You mentioned our acquisition of About.com. It's growing at 40 percent per year. It has been a terrifically successful acquisition by the company. Our web-sites are growing at 30 percent a year. So we are very pleased with the way that transition is going, knowing there is a lot more to do. And just to give you an idea of how aggressively we are going at it, last year we created a research and development group, at the Company, for the first time. So we have people trying to look further into the future and at the same time develop capabilities for the whole company that we can use right now. One of them is mobile. International Herald Tribune launched a mobile web-site you can get on any web-enabled telephone, Blackberry, smart-phone, and with very little promotion – we announced it on our web-site, we ran a few adds in the paper – and we're getting over a million hits a month, a million page views a month from people who want the news right now in their mobile phone, on their Blackberry. Same thing on the web:  growing phenomenally. Four million unique visitors per month. Twenty six million page views. So we see a future there and a very good transition to more and more digital delivery of news.

 

Ipek Cem: It is interesting in the news sources that I have been reading, the Sulzberger family, and the New York Times itself, and the whole group places a lot of emphasis on editorial quality. (Absolutely) and also pays for it. I mean it is an important expense for them, and then there is kind of a challenge, from two angles to this. One, some people are arguing with the rise digital media, editorial quality, maybe people are reading things while on the move, maybe is not so important. I don't necessarily agree with but this is an argument meaning maybe you are wasting some of your money. And the second argument has to do with the fact that a lot of the old newspaper companies in the US, which were run by idealistic families, or owned and run by idealistic families, a lot of them had to give way to the pressures of the market, to the pressures of profitability, and so far you seem to have kind of balanced both. So how do you counteract something like that? With people arguing that the audience doesn't care so much for that much editorial quality anymore?

 

Michael Golden: We don't believe that. There are certainly different kinds of readers, and there are different kinds of viewers on the internet. And we have the largest percentage of the unique visitors who come to our web-sites, come in for just a few articles, and they don't stay for a long time and browse the entire site. But they do come in and read the article and they come in because they are interested in the topic and they want that in meaning and context that I mentioned earlier. But we also have a good percentage of the audience who come in and spend a great deal of time, and read the stories on the internet rather than reading them on paper. And we believe that providing the news in a way that gives that context and meaning, that it helps people to understand what this event means, and in a significant way has still got a very bright future, and that it appeals to an audience that advertisers want to reach. So we believe the fundamental appeal of a media property to attract an audience, to have that audience pay for that information, because it is that valuable to them, and to be able to deliver that audience to advertisers, still applies.

 

Ipek Cem: You are here for a specific purpose, and there is going to be the Luxury'06 Conference organised by the International Herald Tribune, and I was very happy to see this conference taking place in Turkey, but I also had the question, “Why Istanbul? Why now?”

 

Michael Golden: We've operated this conference for about seven years. For the first four years it was in Paris, which is where the International Herald Tribune headquarters are. And then we decided it was time to move. We went to Hong Kong, last year we went to Dubai, and this year we are here in Istanbul, because this is the premier conference for the luxury fashion industry. The attendees are people in the industry that work in that industry, and they want to see what is going on in places that are exciting, that are growing, where luxury in fashion is being developed, it has got a lot of growth, and Istanbul is one of those places. I mean, you know better than I do. I  shouldn't be telling you what a dynamic market this is, and how quickly it is growing. And these people want to be here. The stores opening. There are fashion trends being created here. It is a great place to be.

 

Ipek Cem: When you look at a newspaper like the International Herald Tribune there are clearly more people who can read it than who can afford it… in terms of they know English and more people would be interested. The pricing for the local markets such as here is higher to purchase on the stand or even on a subscription basis. How do you feel you can really penetrate markets like ours more, or maybe you don't have such a plan… I don't know.

 

Michael Golden: No. We're always after more circulation, that's for sure. But it has to be the right circulation. And our paper is expensive compared to local papers basically throughout the world. In the United States it is more expensive than the New York Times. In France it is more expensive than the national papers. Here the same is true. But our audience sees the value in the International Herald Tribune. Wants that international perspective. Greatly appreciates the general interest. We're the only international general interest paper that covers finance, business, economics, politics, culture, fashion, luxury, sports, the whole gamit of human interest. People like that, and they appreciate it, and they pay for it. We are fortunate to be working with the Dogan Group here that publishes the IHT. And we believe that with them together we can… that there is room for considerable growth in Turkey.

 

Ipek Cem: When you look at American media, and it is always being pointed at, let's say, from other parts of the world. Do you feel that, New York Times, of course is an exception in terms of the way their editorials are perhaps they fell more at odds with their own Government than even other countries, the New York Times, but do you feel that this American domination of the media is impacting viewers' willingness to read US sources, or look at US sources?

 

Michael Golden: Well, I have to think about that question for a moment. My experience – I've been living in Europe, and travelling throughout the world for three years – my experience is the right now there is great concern about what the American Government is doing, the Bush administration is doing,  particularly in the Middle East, but I've not seen that extend to a dislike for Americans, for American products, or for American news. So I don't think there's been that direct a rub-off, right now. The International Herald Tribune  works very hard not to have a “American “ perspective. We say that were a cogniscent of every country, and captive of none. And we want to have an international perspective. So we have reporters in Europe, our newsroom is increasingly non-American, it is increasingly British, Australian, German, French. We have all nationalities. We have a newroom in Hong Kong, now in hiring people from that market. So we really believe that we provide an international perspective. Now we do have a unique view into the United States because of the great resource of the New York Times, and we get all of that copy. So we provide a lens into America, but we work hard not to be portraying an American perspective.

 

Ipek Cem: There is all this new technology, and software going on about different gadgets perhaps to read newspapers, and different software. What are some of the exciting technologies that are going top impact how we view and receive our news?

 

Michael Golden: It's a good question, İpek. One of the things we see is that people want the news delivered to them in the fashion they want, at the time they want. And we are actively searching for things that are doing that. Microsoft has a new operating system coming out, and in that is a new reader, and the New York Times Company has been working with Microsoft for six months, more than six months, to develop this. It will allow people to download the newspaper in about a minute and a half. With full editorial content. And then it is resident in the laptop or in a tablet, or on their desktop computer. And it provides a way too read it where the font changes size, it automatically rejustifies. The page is easy to read. You can tailor it for what you want. And you can go through the news in a different way. I position it somewhere between the web and the print paper, but it frees up the print and deliver time-scale. We think this is going to be very popular. There's another development with some plastic – it's still rigid right now, but could become flexible in the future – a film that mimics paper, black and white. And Sony has launched a reader, a book reader, and in a small tablet, this big, and only this thick, you can carry a hundred books – full length novels – more than that with a memory adjustment. And the battery life goes for weeks.

 

Ipek Cem: It's incredible.

 

Michael Golden: It is amazing. It's a different experience, and I bought one to try to keep up with what's going on, and it's a very pleasant way to read. So there will be more and more of these. There is a company in the Netherlands that is developing one for the newspaper market, another company in the US, a little further behind, doing the same thing. So we are going to see a profusion of these devices that allow news to be consumed portably and when people want, the way they want. And this offers opportunities for us to provide it, and have consumers pay for it, as they do a traditional newspaper, but view it where ever they are, whenever they want to.

 

Ipek Cem: On that note I would like to thank you very much for this candid interview, and your time

 

Michael Golden: Thank you very much. I enjoyed it.

 

This transcript was typed from a transcription unit recording and not copied from an original script. Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, NTV networks and Ipek Cem cannot vouch for its accuracy.