The New York Times, Brought to You–Literally–by Twitter

new-york-times-buildingIt has easy enough to be skeptical about Twitter’s influence and staying power–I do it all the time. But there’s no denying that it has become a powerful driver of Web traffic.

Just ask the New York Times (NYT), which says Twitter is about to become one of the top 10 referral sources to the paper’s site.

Impressive. But what exactly does this mean?

There was a flurry of excitement this afternoon on Twitter–of course–when Simulmedia CEO Dave Morgan threw out a much more exciting data point: Reporting/Tweeting from an industry conference, Morgan said Times digital boss Martin Nisenholtz had announced that “Twitter now drives 10% of NYT digital distribution, up from 0 a year ago.”

dave morgan twitter

Other attendees report hearing the same thing. But whether they were participating in a mass hallucination or Nisenholtz misspoke, here’s the Times’s official line, via spokeswoman Diane McNulty: “At its current growth rate, Twitter is, or will soon move into, the top 10 in terms of referrals to NYTimes.com.”

If that’s the case, then Twitter likely accounts for much less than 10 percent of the Times’s traffic. If you assume that Google (GOOG) is the paper’s largest external referral source, and that it likely accounts for a third of the site’s traffic (these are semi-educated guesses, but I’m happy to adjust), then Twitter and other sources at the bottom of the top 10 are going to be in the low single digits.

Still! It is a lot of traffic, and a year ago it either didn’t exist or someone else was directing it to the Times. Now the trick for Twitter (and its investors) is to figure out a way to capitalize on this phenomenon.

The New York Times, Brought to You – Literally – By Twitter

new-york-times-buildingIt’s easy enough to be skeptical about Twitter’s influence and staying power — I do it all the time. But there’s no denying that it has become a powerful driver of Web traffic.

Just ask the New York Times (NYT), which says Twitter is about to become one of its top 10 referral sources to the paper’s site.

Impressive. But what exactly does that mean?

There was a flurry of excitement this afternoon on  Twitter — of course — when Simulmedia CEO Dave Morgan threw out a much more exciting data point: Reporting/Tweeting from an industry conference, Morgan said Times digital boss Martin Nisenholtz had announced that “Twitter now drives 10% of NYT digital distribution, up from 0 a year ago.”

dave morgan twitter

Other attendees report hearing the same thing. But whether they were participating in a mass hallucination, or Nisenholtz misspoke, here’s the Times’ official line, via spokeswoman Diane McNulty: “At its current growth rate, Twitter is, or will soon move into, the top 10 in terms of referrals to NYTimes.com.”

If that’s the case, then Twitter likely accounts for much less than 10% of the Times’ traffic. If you assume that Google (GOOG) is the paper’s largest external referral source, and that it likely accounts  for a third of the site’s traffic (these are semi-educated guesses, but I’m happy to adjust), then Twitter and other sources at the bottom of the top 10 are going to be in the low single digits.

Still! It is a lot of traffic, and a year ago it either didn’t exist, or someone else was directing it to the Times. Now the trick for Twitter (and its investors) is to figure out a way to capitalize on that phenomenon.

AOL: More Org Chart Shuffles Coming; So Are Ad Dollars. But Mum on Microsoft.

092009ATDaolIt’s Advertising Week in New York! Which means that for the next few days, ad sellers will be meeting, greeting and buttering up ad buyers in hopes of prying some of their dollars free. Just like every week in New York.

One difference for the likes of me: Big ad sellers are making themselves very available to the press. This morning, for instance, AOL sent out CEO Tim Armstrong, sales boss Jeff Levick, sales deputy Erin Clift and content boss Bill Wilson to poke at eggs and ignore a plateful of bagels and lox.

Oh, and they talked, too! The big message was that they’re still in the process of overhauling the Internet giant on behalf of Time Warner (TWX), which brought in Armstrong from Google (GOOG) earlier this year and says it still plans on spinning off the company by the end of 2009.

Afterward, I got a brief interview (along with PaidContent’s David Armstrong) with the AOL chief. The video is at the bottom of the post, and you may need to turn up your speakers to hear it. But the takeaways are:

  • AOL is still looking for a chief marketing officer. The search is in the “early stages.” Do you know anyone? Internet experience is not a prerequisite.
  • More org chart moves, like the one that saw COO Kim Partoll pushed out last week, are coming. They’ll be part of the internal review process Armstrong has dubbbed “Project Everest,” which should be complete by the end of the year.
  • So are layoffs. See above.
  • Internet ad dollars are beginning to flow out again–or if they’re not flowing, Armstrong thinks they will be, as big marketers like Procter & Gamble (PG) make permanent shifts in their advertising mixes.
  • Armstrong professes to be surprised by a report last week that he had met with Yusuf Mehdi, who runs Bing and MSN for Microsoft (MSFT). “I know Yusuf. I’ve known him personally for years. So if I saw him I would be happy, but….”

Newspapers’ Bad News Get Less Bad–But Not by Much

inflating-balloon

Is the newspaper advertising slump about to end? Nope. But it’s continuing to get a little bit less awful.

The New York Times polls some of the remaining analysts covering the industry, as well as people who actually work in it, and concludes that Q3 ad revenue will be down 25 percent, or “possibly a bit less”. Awful by any standards except those of this year: Q1 was down 28.3 percent and Q2 was 29 percent.

Worth noting, but not in an newsworthy way: We’ve been headed in this direction for a while. Publishers including the New York Times (NYT), Gannett (GCI) and McClatchy (MNI) started making hopeful murmurs — or less hopeless murmurs, really — earlier this summer. But all they’re really saying is that:

  • Things don’t seem to be getting any worse and
  • It’s nearly impossible for year-over-year comparisons not to improve for the rest of the year, since results will be measured those posted in the fall of 2008, when the economy was in shocked-and-awed mode. Which we knew. But still worth repeating, and something we’ll probably repeat many more times through the rest of this year.

Microsoft Goes Hunting for Malvertisers. Are They the Same Guys Who Hacked the New York Times?

dr-evilThe hackers who duped the New York Times (NYT) into serving a bogus ad last week may be part of a growing trend. Or they may just be very active: Microsoft says it has been hit by a similar attack and is suing the people behind it.

But first the company needs to figure out who the culprits are.

Microsoft (MSFT) has filed five so-called “John Doe” civil suits against the hackers, whom it can’t identify yet. Redmond accuses the unknown attackers of a variety of crimes, from fraud to copyright infringement; it says it hopes the filings will “deter malvertising in the future.” (See full text of the complaint below.)

There’s a decent chance that the Microsoft bad guys are, in fact, the same guys who hijacked the Times last weekend. The methodology they used to get the ads onto Redmond’s MSN publishing network seems similar, and so does the fake “virus detected” warning the ads use to confuse surfers.

And, intriguingly, online ad monitor Click Forensics says it thinks it has identified a link between the malware that the Times served up and the stuff that the Microsoft attackers were trying to distribute. The company also thinks the two attacks are connected to a click fraud ring it has dubbed the “Bahama Botnet.”

Even if Microsoft does end up getting its hands on these guys, I think we’ll be seeing more of this stuff. Since the Times story broke last weekend, I’ve been talking to a variety of ad tech experts about the incident. And it sounds as if the technique the hackers used to compromise the paper–essentially, passing themselves off as legitimate advertisers–will be very difficult to stop if someone is determined to use it.

The best solution I’ve heard so far: Monitoring systems that can quickly detect an attack and warn publishers that they’re running malvertisements. It’s unclear how long the bogus Times ad stayed up, but the fact that it got switched on over the weekend indicates that the attackers assumed the paper would be slow to react.


Microsoft Malware complaint

Is YouTube’s Biggest Star Ready for the Big Screen?

fredWho’s going to be the first Web star to make it to the movies? One alarming possibility: Lucas Cruikshank, better known to a staggering number of YouTube viewers as “Fred.”

Fred is one of those weird cultural phenomena, like Rascal Flatts or the Wiggles, that are hugely popular in some demos and unknown in others. So while you may have never seen him, he was until very recently the biggest star on Google’s (GOOG) video site, and has generated more than 300 million views.

And now, a movie? I’ve yet to hear about anyone committing to financing, and/or distributing one, but Tubefilter has found what it says is a casting call for a Fred-based flick. That makes no sense to me, but then again, I thought “Beavis and Butthead” wouldn’t translate to the big screen, and that worked pretty well, in my humble opinion.

Then again, in my humble opinion, this stuff is unwatchable. Be warned:

Pay Up: The Wall Street Journal Tries Charging Web Subscribers for Mobile Access

rupert-murdochHow on earth does The Wall Street Journal expect its subscribers to pay an additional fee to read the newspaper on a mobile phone?

It doesn’t. Except when it does.

Contrary to News Corp. (NWS) CEO Rupert Murdoch’s comments earlier in the week, Dow Jones will not be charging customers who subscribe to both its Web and print versions a weekly fee to read the paper on its iPhone or BlackBerry apps.

But if you’re only subscribing to one version? That’ll be a buck a week, starting Oct. 24. The Journal will also start charging mobile-only users $2 a week, which is essentially the same price as a Web-only subscription.

That second charge makes some sense to me. The Journal has always said that it would start charging for the apps it makes for Apple’s (AAPL) and Research in Motion’s (RIMM) handsets. Right now these apps are gratis, which means you can either pay the Journal to read it in print or on the Web, or read it on your iPhone and pay zilch. That had to change at some point.

But while I have to be a tiny bit delicate here–Dow Jones owns this Web site, and I still have some aversion to insulting my employers in public–I don’t see how dunking paying customers a second time makes sense.

I do understand some of the impulse. Publishers of all stripes seem to think that while charging for content on the Web is tough, people are happy to pay for something delivered wirelessly. I think that many publishers are going to be very disappointed when they try this out in practice, but that’s another story.

And I also know that News Corp. has steadily been pushing Dow Jones to raise its subscription prices for the WSJ since it acquired the company, and this strategy sort of dovetails with that.

But seems to me that if I am paying for information, I will expect to consume it wherever I am, at the same price. And you’re starting to hear some publishers say the same thing–see Variety’s comments about subscription plans today in PaidContent.

I don’t actually pay for my WSJ subscription; my employers, who, I should stress, are truly excellent people, have hooked me up–so maybe I’ve got this wrong. Or maybe it’s merely a marketing issue: If you jack up my WSJ subscription and tell me you’re throwing in access to the mobile app for free, I might be okay with it.

But tell me you’re charging me an additional fee to read it on the go and it will stick in my craw. Let’s see if the paper’s paying subscribers feel the same way.