Nytimes_hqBooks are not news stories. Yes, yes, I know the difference. Same when it comes to the present vs. the future, or reporters and editors vis-à-vis corporate planners.

Even so, in the wake of the misleading New York Times article headlined The Plot Twist: E-Book Sales Slip, and Print Is Far From Dead, I can’t help but notice that the newspaper’s business side wants to boost digital revenue from last year’s $400 million to a whopping $800 million within the next five years.

A Times memo, quoted in part in the New York Observer, says: “For all that we’ve accomplished, our digital business is not yet close to supporting the scale of our ambitions. This is why we are setting the goal of doubling our digital revenues over the next five years, to reach more than $800 million in digital-only revenue by 2020. To  get there, we must more than double the number of engaged digital readers who are the foundation of both our consumer and advertising revenue models.

“These are ambitious targets. Though both digital revenue and digital subscribers have been growing by double-digit rates, we need to not just maintain but to increase this growth in coming years. We must succeed if we are to return The Times to a position of  growth and outpace the slow but inevitable decline in print. Reaching these targets would take us past the point at which digital revenue exceeds print revenue, an important milestone for the long-term sustainability of our mission.”

Big 5 Book publishers, take note. Stop sabotaging your e-book side with prices gouges to protect P.

Instead embrace the future—just as the business side of the Times is striving to do. Especially noteworthy is the Times’ interest in using digital media to expand the newspaper’s international presence (see memo). Perhaps the Big Five book publishers need to think similarly about the lower distribution costs and worry less about territorial restrictions in the e-book era. They could still partner up with local publishers on, say, translations of English works.

Granted, it isn’t as if the Times intends to neglect its print side. In fact, it appears to be better than book publishers in understanding that print and digital can coexist for the moment, at least, as opposed to undermining digital efforts.

“Deepening our newspaper subscribers’ relationship with our digital products remains a priority,” the memo says. “More than 90 percent have linked their digital accounts, and those who are active average more than three hours each week on our website and apps, making them some of our most engaged digital users. The recognition that their loyalty is to The Times, whatever the platform, is driving us to create more unified digital and print subscriber experiences.”

Yes, I’d like Times’s digital subscriptions to cost much less. But the $3.75 weekly charge for Web and smartphone access is still a bargain compared to the $9 and up charged for print (with “All Digital Access” included). Same for the $5 Web and Tablet access.

Even with the $8.75 for All Digital access being a mere 25 cent cheaper than the print-digital combo, the Times is still far less abusive toward digital customers—at least those opting for the $3.75 and $5 arrangements—than the Big Five publishers have been when they demand paperback prices or even more for e-books.


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