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Aug. 2, 2016, 11:38 a.m.
Business Models
Reporting & Production

The New York Times is publishing a print-only novel excerpt this Sunday

“The New York Times audience is full of voracious readers, not only of quality journalism but also of important works of fiction as well…We plan to offer more selected works of fiction in the future.”

Even as The New York Times prioritizes digital expansion, with a stated goal of reaching $800 million in digital revenue by 2020, the paper is also trying to milk as much as it can out of its print products, which still drive most of its revenue. In its latest attempt to incentivize print, the Times is publishing an excerpt this Sunday of the author Colson Whitehead’s new novel in a special standalone section that will only appear in paper.

Produced by the Times Magazine, the broadsheet section will feature a 16,000-word excerpt of The Underground Railroad, which tells the story of an escaped slave running away from a Georgia plantation. On Tuesday, Oprah Winfrey announced it would be the next pick for her book club. The novel was initially scheduled to be published in September, but Doubleday, Whitehead’s publisher, moved up the publication date to Tuesday.

In a release, the Times said “there will be no digital version” of the excerpt. Times Magazine editor Jake Silverstein said in a statement: “We plan to offer more selected works of fiction in the future.”

In recent months, the Times has paid special attention to print while trying to refocus for digital. Last year, executive editor Dean Baquet eliminated the Times’ longstanding 4 p.m. Page 1 meeting where editors debated which stories would be on the paper’s front page the next day. Now, a smaller group meets at 3:30 p.m. to discuss the print product while the larger group of editors meets at 4:30 p.m. to discuss how stories are presented and promoted digitally.

In October, Baquet also said in a memo that the Times was centralizing its print production into a central hub, led by associate masthead editor Tom Jolly. A recent Politico story explained how the print hub works:

The idea is that, instead of editors who are in charge of various coverage areas being focused each day on which of their reporters’ stories will appear in print, and where, and with how much space, these editors will put all of their energy into assigning and editing stories for digital without being bogged down by the evening production process, which becomes the purview of the print hub.

To give an example, the hub could theoretically decide to put a business story in the foreign section if they felt it made more sense for the reader. Likewise, individual desks could lobby for certain stories to be included and the hub could decline, though this wouldn’t happen without discussion and argument.

The Times is still in the process of getting the hub up and running. So far, metro and international have both been incorporated, and all six daily sections are expected to be hubbified by Labor Day, according to Jolly.

In June, after the death of Muhammad Ali, the paper culled its archives to present a standalone section of its coverage of the boxer from the 1960s and 1970s.

In addition, The Times produced standalone print sections for two narrative stories earlier this year.

Last fall, the Times also sent more than 1 million Google Cardboard VR headsets to Sunday print subscribers in conjunction with the release of its first virtual reality film.

In its second-quarter earnings report last week, the Times reported print circulation revenue of $163 million, a decrease of less than 1 percent that was driven by lower single-copy sales. “Home delivery revenues increased slightly in the quarter as a home delivery price increase in early 2016 more than offset volume declines,” Times CFO Jim Follo said on an earnings call.

Print advertising continued to be a weakness, though, falling 14 percent. Total advertising revenue dropped nearly 12 percent to $131 million.

Photo by Patrick used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Aug. 2, 2016, 11:38 a.m.
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