NYTimes.com Ponders “Information-Affiliate Program”

NEW YORK – When the New York Times puts its op-ed and news columnists, along with other premium content, behind a subscription wall on September 19 as announced earlier this week, it plans to have new monetization and marketing models in place to support the new TimesSelect product.

Chucking a prepared speech at the Syndicate conference in New York yesterday, Martin Nisenholtz, senior vice president of digital operations at the New York Times Company, instead revealed some of the Times’ still-in-development plans to support the site’s new financial model. These include an affiliate program and the redesign or restructuring of site and content elements, such as RSS feeds, to better exploit what Nisenholtz called the “trend to unbundle from the container.”

The affiliate model is far from fully-formed, but the NYTimes.com expects it to be in place for the TimesSelect launch. Nisenholtz hopes to “incite the blogosphere to share the revenues of that idea. I don’t see why this would be viewed as a negative thing if it creates revenues across the blogosphere.” The idea is to sell bloggers TimesSelect and incentivize them to link to content behind the subscription wall by giving them a cut of the revenue gained via new subscribers they refer.

Niesenholtz told the audience that affiliate marketing is central to the Times’ vision of online publishing’s future. “This is going to be a growing part of the ecosystem of the Web. In the same way Amazon.com made tremendous headway with its affiliates in the book business, we can create a revenue stream down the tail for people who are creating blogs, etc.” This information-affiliate program will likely eventually apply to other New York Times-owned properties, including Boston.com and About.com.

At present, about 85 percent of NYTimes.com traffic comes through the site homepage, a number expected to drop significantly due to RSS syndication and links that point directly to Times content. Nisenholtz says links from My Yahoo feeds have grown from half a million to seven million pageviews. “It’s the fastest-growing distribution channel that we have,” he said.

“As we see content unbundled from the organizing principle, the question is, ‘what’s the new organizing principle?'” he asked. The publisher is considering, but hasn’t yet committed, to a number of options including paid RSS feeds, changes to the feeds already available, and design changes to the site’s content, possibly reflecting heavier NYTimes.com branding.

“I just don’t think AdSense carries the whole ball,” Niesenholtz said, referring to Google’s contextual advertising program. “The quid pro quo we’re trying to do here is, for ten years, you’ve been asking for seamless access to the archive. You got it. Now, we’ve got to get something [in return].”

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