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Feb. 24, 2009, 1:34 p.m.

A business model for the Times Company: Syndicate your platform

For all the excitement of Times Open, I had a hard time figuring out what it could mean for the newspaper business beyond The New York Times. Few other media companies can match the size and depth of the Times’ development team, putting much of the innovation discussed at the conference perhaps permanently out of reach. But in the afternoon on Friday, I started chatting with Michael Veytsel, founder of a semantic-web startup he’s tentatively calling Factbox. He had an intriguing idea for the Times to monetize its superior platform by sharing it as a “white-label solution” for smaller news outlets. Veytsel explains his idea in video above.

Should the paper of record offer a user-interface of record? Under the old, no-longer-profitable business model, large media companies bought up local newspapers like The Gainesville Sun, as the Times Co. did in 1971. But under this new model, conglomeration would be replaced by platform syndication. There are certainly downsides to the concept, but I was just intrigued to hear an idea that could apply the Times’ innovation more broadly, while allowing the company to profit from its deep investment in the web.

Here’s a transcript of the video:

Michael Veytsel: A company like The New York Times, which has a lot of resources and assets on the user-experience and interaction front and also on the content front, could leverage those resources and allow small, local newspapers, small, local media companies that don’t have the same level of interaction and are just playing catch-up but have really good access to content because they’re geographically local. The New York Times could potentially provide or a company like The New York Times could potentially provide a sort of a white-label, maybe hosted solution where, you know, the smaller news outlets could bring their content in.

For example, I’m from Ridgewood in Bergen County, and potentially The Ridgewood Times or whatever it’s called could have a site with the look and feel and interactions and toolkits and media visualizations that The New York Times uses but using their own content, their own data. So this idea of the separation of the content and the interaction and bringing in content from all different sources, especially sources that don’t have the resources to build such rich interaction on their own, I think that’s a really promising, potentially promising, you know, future for the print media, especially the local media.

Q: So, in that way, the Times or another media company that does have the resources to have such a rich development side could provide the platform for any other newspaper or news organization to launch — I mean, to use?

Veytsel: That’s right. So potentially, they might begin with local paper that, for them, the appeal would be that they have access to all the resources and assets and interactivity the Times has developed over the years with their engineers. And on The New York Times’ side, they’re creating a platform that, for the end user, creates a consistent experience and that sort of promotes The New York Times brand. Because even the look and feel of the site is part of the brand, is part of the identity of The New York TImes.

And potentially, The New York Times could do something like create a revenue-sharing model where they have this hosted solution. The local newspaper or, potentially in the future, the bigger newspaper could have their own banner on top. But the rest of the site has the same look and feel and the content from the local site. So it’s almost like, it’s basically standardization of the user experience. That’s what the Times would be providing, and the local papers would be providing the content.

Q: The Times has the skin?

Veytsel: Yeah, so yeah, skinning is one way of thinking about it. The New York Times is providing the skin, and the other guys are providing the content. And, you know, that’s much better for the user. Potentially, companies are sharing revenue based on the ad space that’s available, that real estate that the user is viewing. And it could be sort of a mutually beneficial relationship, where now it’s kind of like everyone’s on their own, and everyone’s trying to create a best-of-class solution, but they don’t have the resources to do it.

And potentially, in the future, even past that, you know, that sort of model, if successful, could attract other, bigger companies — bigger media companies like L.A. Times and Chicago Tribune, which are maybe in their twilight years given how the print industry is going, could potentially revive them because, again, for the end user, it’s a great benefit, and you’re sort of not reinventing the wheel by sort of recreating the same thing over and over again.

POSTED     Feb. 24, 2009, 1:34 p.m.
PART OF A SERIES     Times Open at the NYT
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