10:41 AM

NYT exec Nisenholtz discusses the Gray Lady's premium content move, About acquisition and growth in RSS

Monday, the New York Times announced [press release] that columnists and Op-Ed essays would no longer be available for free online but would be part of a $50 offering called TimesSelect. The service includes full access to the Times archive back to 1980.

In his keynote speech at Syndicate conference, Martin Nisenholtz (senior VP of digital operations for the Times) floated an idea for an Amazon-like affiliate program, essentially where websites and bloggers would earn a kickback for converting users to TimesSelect customers.

"That could be a new revenue stream for people down the tail who can use New York Times information as a way into an affiliate program," he said. And it needn't be NYT only. "There could be an information affiliate program across a variety of content providers."

Sitting in the front row, Marc Canter asked whether this meant the Times would be a "publisher or a pimp" - that is, would the Times be "hustling me to make money off of me." Suffice to say, Nisenholtz didn't care for that characterization; he said several times that the Amazon model seems like a strong way for the Times to go but that the idea was not fully baked.

He also talked about the Times' acquisition of About.com on March 18 for $400 million. He noted that 80% of About's traffic comes from web searches while 85% of the Times' traffic comes through the home page. About, then, is a "long tail" product, the kind of site where Adsense ads work particularly well. The Times, of course, is not a long tail business. Nisenholtz sees the two as "highly complementary. ... The New York Times can learn a lot from About," he said.

Nisenholtz also emphasized the growth in RSS at the Times. "Something like the top 15% of RSS feeds on My Yahoo come from the Times. We have gotten RSS out there - we've gone from 500,000 page views to 7 million - its the fastest growing distribution channel we have. As more people use RSS, it's becoming the way that a lot of people are accessing the Times' content."

As a result of this increasing RSS use, the percentage of Times online visitors accessing the site by the front door will shrink from the current 85%. "This has real ramifications," he said. "The Times as a newspaper considers itself an organizing principle for the world - all newspapers feel that way. There's an editorial sensibility that print publications bring that organizes the world. As we see the content become unbundled from the organizing principle, what's the new organizing principle? The standard answer is the individual, but I'm not sure that the right answer. There's a demand also for a shared sensibility with the rest of the world and serendipity," as well as user-filtered content.

An audience member asked Nisenholtz when the Times would start adding hyperlinks to their stories. It's not easy to do, he said, because the editorial management system doesn't support that. The Times' solution is to create a system in which there are 10,000 topic pages under the content. "What will start to happen as we layer in these topic pages is that the content will start to light up. It will be a much more random reading experience."