Mark Thompson's big unknown as NYT CEO: Revenue-building

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One of the biggest questions about the selection of Mark Thompson as CEO of The New York Times Co. is how he'll help the company make money and build new revenue streams.

The main source of revenue at the BBC, where Thompson was director general, is an annual "license fee" of £145.50 per household. The New York Times' sources of revenue are, well, voluntary. That's going to be a big change for Thompson, according to The Daily Beast's Peter Jukes:

Though he spent two years as the head of Channel 4, which relies on advertising for income, the channel is actually protected by legislation and has a public-service remit. No such protection is afforded to The New York Times, and all Thompson’s experiments will be tested by the hard metrics of the bottom line. Though his managerial and political skills will stand him in good stead with the paper’s empire and the Sulzberger family, it won’t necessarily generate new readers willing to fork out money for digital versions of the paper.

GigaOM's Mathew Ingram is skeptical that Thompson will reinvent the Times' business model, which he believes is necessary rather than "pinning all its hopes on a paywall."

Could the NYT acquire something like Flipboard as a way of jump-starting its transition from being an information gatekeeper to being a digital curation machine? Possibly. But Mark Thompson doesn’t seem like the kind of CEO who would make that sort of bet. ... The legendary paper doesn’t need someone to manage its business; it needs someone to reinvent it on a fairly fundamental level.

In an interview with WNYC, Ken Doctor said the Times opted for someone who knows what it's like to change the culture of one of the most trusted news brands in the world.

But more than one person has noted that the BBC's digital innovations resulted from others in the organization. That's not necessarily a knock against Thompson, PaidContent's Robert Andrews says.

Thompson is more a curator than a creator. He has been blessed to benefit from a natural pipeline of creativity, and has channeled that pipeline’s output effectively to tick all the policy boxes of the public institution he led. If Thompson can rely on similar digital throughput at NYT Co., he could repeat the trick.

Many leaders of large organisations occupy similar roles; such is the lot of a strategic CEO. It would just be misleading to cast Thompson as NYT Co.’s digital guru.

However, Doctor believes Thompson could help the Times expand its digital audience:

The global imperative is basic math. In Britain, Thompson served 1% of the world’s population. In the U.S., the Times serves 5%. The growth potential of both — especially in a world where close to a billion people can understand English — is huge. Out-of-country expansion, to gain new readers and advertisers, isn’t easy, but Thompson is one of the few potential CEOs who has it.

Poynter's Rick Edmonds disagrees:

This has historically been a money-losing area for both the Times (with the International Herald Tribune) and the Journal. Quality newspaper organizations in London and other European capitals typically lose serious amounts of money, even if they’re ahead of the curve on digital transformation like the Guardian.

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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