This isn’t news anymore: it’s an injunction. Newspapers must transition into the digital revolution, primarily through online, for their own sake. The New York Times Co.’s chairman, Arthur Sulzberger, reaffirmed the immediacy of this necessity: he doesn’t care about print anymore.
"I really don't know whether we'll be printing the Times in five years, and you know what? I don't care either," said Sulzberger at Davos’ World Economic Forum.
"The Internet is a wonderful place to be, and we're leading there."
The words may be blunt, but they’re the sincere assessment made by one of the world newspaper industry’s most prominent figures.
The NY Times has indeed led the online revolution, with 13 million monthly visitors in December 2006, according to the Huffington Post.
Sulzberger went as far as saying that the Times is on a journey that will only end once they stop printing the paper.
According to him, despite decreasing print ad revenues, a newspaper company can make just about as much revenue because of the much lower cost of online editions compared to print.
"These costs aren't anywhere near what print costs," Sulzberger says. "The last time we made a major investment in print, it cost no less than $1 billion. Site development costs don't grow to that magnitude."
Sulzberger also spoke about a new development, Times Reader, a software program which could offer a near-print reading experience on laptops and mobile devices.
"I very much believe that the experience of reading a paper can be transferred to these new devices."
Sulzberger is ahead of the line in terms of newspapers’ modernization, and furthermore, in his view that newspapers must immediately modernize.
Yet the Times’ chairman is still very much a supporter of some of newspapers’ more traditional traits.
"We are curators, curators of news. People don't click onto the New York Times to read blogs. They want reliable news that they can trust," he said. At the same time, Sulzberger fully realizes the importance of these new media today: “the paper can integrate material from bloggers and external writers. We need to be part of that community and to have dialogue with the online world."
Sulzberger also defended the traditional – now deemed cumbersome – broadsheet format of the Times’ print edition. When asked when it will go tabloid, he answers:
"Until when? The New York Times has no intention of changing that," said Sulzberger.
A trace of conservatism in Sulzberger’s view of the print New York Times? Or more probably the realization that a switch to tabloid is too costly compared to the life expectancy of the print edition?
PS: In case you didn’t grasp the point (about online replacing a lot of print in a rather near future), here are a few words by Vibe magazine editor in chief Danyel Smith:
“Vibe.com exists because of our magazine, but in five years I think the opposite will be true.”
“Every magazine is now a 24/7 daily newspaper.” “I think it’s about being a part of the future.”