‘It is never too late to become what we might have been.’ –T. S. Eliot


In the months after the collapse of the credit market in the fall of 2008, The New York Times was forced to take drastic measures to stay afloat: In January 2009, it granted Mexican telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helú purchase warrants for 15.9 million shares of Times Company stock for the privilege of borrowing $250 million at essentially a junk-bond interest rate of 14 percent. Two months later, in a move redolent with uncomfortable symbolism, the company raised another $225 million through a sale-leaseback deal for its headquarters. Add on double-digit declines in both circulation and ad pages and the trend lines looked increasingly clear: The New York Times was doomed.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the graveyard. Though the Times’ circulation dipped during the crash years, much of the lost revenue was made up for by doubling the newsstand price, from $1 to $2—evidence, the paper insisted, that its premium audience understood the value of a premium product. In March, after several years of planning and tens of millions in investments, the Times launched a digital-subscription plan—and the early signs were good. In fact, less than 48 hours before my interview, the Times announced it would finish paying back the Carlos Slim loan in full on August 15, three and a half years early. When they were released last week, the company’s second-quarter financial results showed an overall loss largely owing to the write-down of some regional papers, but they also contained a much more important piece of data: The digital-subscription plan—the famous “paywall”—was working better than anyone had dared to hope.

{ NY mag | Continue reading }