How New York Times Company evolved its syndication and licensing for future growth

By Philippe Hertzberg

The New York Times News Service & Syndicate provides creative content solutions to help media outlets adapt to fast-paced changes in the news and publishing industry.

Most dramatic among these changes are the expansion of digital platforms and the impact of the global financial crisis on consumers and advertisers.

The New York Times News Services Division is a syndication and new business development arm of The New York Times Company. The News Service & Syndicate, part of the division, creates, collects and distributes high-quality news and information from The New York Times and dozens of other media organisations and individuals.

It is important to create a common language around what we mean by content licensing and syndication and what it means for departments outside of the newsroom.

We define syndication as the distribution of articles, stories, columns, images, comic strips, or other features for simultaneous publication in a number of different publishing environments and markets.

At The New York Times, we define licensing as the right to publish a branded section or magazine using the Times logo, and the same look and feel as the original.

Under syndication, therefore, you will find the distribution of daily content via The New York Times news wire as well as other sources, among them Harvard Business Review magazine, Nature magazine, BBC News, and columnists such as Richard Branson and Noam Chomsky.

Licensing would include the NYT International Weekly, an eight- to 16-page section inserted into host newspapers around the world, and customised foreign editions of T, the style magazine of The New York Times. In addition, we have created Turning Points, an annual year-end magazine with specially commissioned original material.

Syndication sales have dramatically changed over the past 10 years. Back then, the recipe for success was fairly simple: syndication = quality content + budgets + space.

 The NYT News Service & Syndicate offered great content, which helped news organisations attract readers. Budgets were large and editors were empowered to spend for quality content. In addition, the mainly one-platform newspaper print world had a lot of spare space.

Fast-forwarding to today, syndication has become much more complex. Dual challenges have deeply affected the media industry.

First, there is the challenge within the media itself with the emergence of new digital platforms that move readers away from the print world, resulting in weakening print audiences. Second, there is a more universal challenge: a global financial meltdown with effects on advertising budgets that are still being felt across many regions.

The new equation: syndication & licensing = quality content + brands + technology + monetisation.

 Quality content has never been so important and, at the same time, so threatened by financial cuts and new, earlier filing deadlines to serve digital platforms. Large budgets and plenty of space in print have disappeared because of drastic cost cutting. 

Brands are critical, as they help differentiate publications with readers and advertisers, and they cut through the clutter of the exploding media outlets and entertainment choices. 

Technology has become essential as every news organisation needs to anticipate the growing and changing news consumption habits on all digital platforms. Financial objectives have filtered down through publishing organisations, where editors are now asked (and sometimes required) to think about how to monetise content. 

Syndication is not as simple as it used to be. It now includes the key elements one finds in licensing models, and The NYT News Service & Syndicate role has become critical in providing innovative solutions to media organisations worldwide.

Syndication and licensing today are increasingly about using quality content produced with the highest journalistic standards, from the greatest brands of the world, to help support both the newsrooms and the business sides of news organisations in meeting these critical objectives:

  • Strengthen existing audiences and reach new audiences.

  • Increase revenue opportunities.

The following examples illustrate how our clients are using our services to grow both their audiences and their revenue:

  • Turning Points, our year-end magazine, offers both advertising and circulation revenue opportunities to clients.

  • Paul Krugman’s weekly page presents a branded environment monetised through sponsorships from financial institutions and others.

  • The IHT fashion critic Suzy Menkes’s page creates the ideal space to welcome luxury advertising.

  • NYT News Service & Syndicate branded- content channels with portals like MSN include several content services to attract new audiences and sponsorship revenue.

As more news organisations are moving to a “pay gate” model – the word “gate” is used intentionally instead of the common “pay wall,” which abruptly divides audiences, more opportunities will be created that add value for the reader with a digital subscription who expects a rich digital experience. 

We are exploring with several clients the creation of branded channels to be made available behind pay gates and heavily promoted across all platforms, including print.

The “pure players,” as we call them, or digital-only clients, are now common, from portals to niche Web sites and tablet/mobile editions, providing numerous new opportunities to create, collect and distribute our content with a “digital first” strategy in mind.

At the News Services Division of The Times, we will continue our core mission by listening to the growing needs of our clients, addressing them swiftly, anticipating the ones we can, trying new models while at the same time sharing the experiences developed by The New York Times Company. 

The future is definitely brighter when you navigate in the same boat, wearing the “trial and error” life vest, while you make sense of where your next destination will bring you. Happy journey and happy new year!

About Philippe Hertzberg

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