NY Times CEO predicts end to printed papers in 20 years, attributes digital success to Trump

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The outgoing CEO of the New York Times confirmed what savvy social media users have known for a long time, that newspapers are the equivalent of dinosaurs on the very brink of extinction.

After all, by the time a printed newspaper reaches a customer’s doorstep, the content within is ancient news — then again, in today’s #FakeNews age, that may not be their biggest challenge.

“I believe the Times will definitely be printed for another 10 years and quite possibly another 15 years — maybe even slightly more than that,” Times CEO Mark Thompson told CNBC. “I would be very surprised if it’s printed in 20 years’ time.”

Thompson said the Times has more than 900,000 subscribers receiving a printed paper, and could run seven days a week at a profit without a single advertisement at that level.

CNBC noted that for the first time ever, the New York Times Company reported last quarter that total digital revenue exceeded print revenue.

After seeing print advertising fall more than 50% year over year from last quarter, in part due to secular declines and the pandemic. Thompson said he doesn’t see it ever coming back.

“I’m skeptical about whether it will recover to where it was during 2019 levels,” he said. “It was already in year-over-year decline for many years. I think that decline is probably inexorable.”

Smaller newspapers are struggling much worse, with many being only a shell of their former selves. Experienced, higher earning journalists are being jettisoned in favor of younger, cheaper reporters, while staff sizes are reduced and coverage of local events is limited.

Digital subscriptions have become the new cash cow, and the Times’ numbers have “skyrocketed,” according to CNBC.

“The Times reported 1 million digital-only subscriptions in October 2015,” reported the business news outlet. “At the end of the second quarter, the Times had 5.7 million total digital-only subscriptions. Thompson set a goal for the company to reach 10 million digital-only customers by 2025.”

And yes, in the event you were wondering, Thompson acknowledged President Donald Trump’s corresponding election helped with the Times’ subscriptions boom, though he suggested the company’s efforts also played a role.

“I think by 2016, we’d gotten our act together,” he said. “We had a lot of digital expertise in the building. We’d decided we were subscription first and that we’d pivot the business not just from print to digital but from advertising dollars to subscription. And just at the level of product, customer journey and marketplace, we’d gotten a lot better. And so we were ready to take the opportunity when it arose.”

When considering how some news outlets went all in on bashing Trump,  it stands to reason that the decision must be financially beneficial.

After eight years at the helm, Thompson will be replaced next month by Meredith Levien. As for what the future holds, he predicted there will more sensationalism in the news cycle.

“Clearly, a dramatic news cycle — just day after day, enormous stories and enormous headlines — clearly helps,” he observed. “Our societies have been torn apart by fundamental disruptive forces around social division, globalization, automation, climate change, mass immigration and so on. If you think one election result is going to solve those problems and the news is going to go back to a placid few months in 1958, I don’t believe it.”

Never mind that the media drives much of this.

Interestingly, Thompson predicted strife over the results of the November election being a driving factor here.

“After arguably decades of post-war stability, we’re now in this crazy period of uncertainty and tension and anger, and I don’t think the anger goes away,” the CEO said. “We know, I think, in advance, that the losers of the election in 2020, whoever they are, will not wish to believe the election was legitimate. The battle will go on, the noise will continue.”


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