Mark Thompson on the subscription models and being indispensable

At Nieman Lab, Ken Doctor had a fascinating interview with New York Times’ CEO Mark Thompson. Some highlights that I didn’t see making the Twitter rounds:

I think there were good reasons to believe the benefits of advertising typically accrue at the platform level. They used to accrue to newspapers, where newspapers — because they control printing and distribution — were essentially platforms, with near monopolistic reach and therefore colossal pricing power. Once you take those advantages away, the model collapses, and instead it’s the major digital platforms who have the same kind of quasi-monopolistic advantages of distribution.

This is a really eloquent description of the situation facing newspapers, and I haven’t heard it put like this before. In the pre-digital era, newspapers were platforms. But today, Facebook and Google are platforms. Advertising works at their level, which explains in part why the digital ad market for newspapers has cratered.

More from Thompson:

But overall it’s the indispensability of The New York Times, and The New York Times being the center of lots of conversations. I think that’s very good for the indispensability of the brand in many people’s lives.


I think, firstly, I’m definitely an optimist on the level of consumer demand for quality content. In other words, I believe that if you’re producing journalism of value, there is no reason to expect that consumers wouldn’t be prepared, in some way, to support that — potentially to pay for it.

This fits with my theory of subscriptions. The key, as I’ll say again and again, is to provide readers with something they can’t live without.

Not something you think they can’t live without, or something you think they shouldn’t live without. Something that is truly indispensable to them.