The New York Times and its other newspapers will be "exploring a new online financial strategy" in the coming months, New York Times Co. chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. told shareholders at its 113th annual meeting Thursday.
Sulzberger did not specify any particular business model, but suggested the Times would look again at trying to get paid for its content. For several years, the flagship paper charged international users to access its site, and for a few years charged for access to opinion columns and other contents in its Times Select program.
"We continue to take a fresh, hard and deep look at various subscription, purchase and micropayment models," he said, according to a text of his prepared remarks. "We will have more to say on this subject at a future date."
At the same time, Sulzberger seemed to suggest the advertiser-supported online model is not going to change soon.
"Recently, we analyzed the business models of more than 30 different organizations to determine which are the most effective in generating revenues online," he said. "What we believe is that the advertising model we have used at NYTimes.com has generated more revenue than the vast majority of other organizations, including some that are much larger than our site."
Repeatedly, Sulzberger declared that the quality of Times Co. newspapers' journalism would be the key to any strategy for success.
Sulzberger even took a veiled shot at Tribune Co. chairman and CEO Sam Zell, a newcomer to the industry who said in an interview last year, "I haven't figured out how to cash in a Pulitzer Prize."
The Times won five Pulitzers earlier this week, bringing it total to 101, Sulzberger noted.
"A few months ago," Sulzberger said, "the leader of another media company boldly stated that awards were meaningless because you cannot make money from them. We respectfully and forcefully disagree. These Pulitzers speak directly to The New York Times Company's relentless commitment to journalistic excellence.
"This excellence is regularly cited by our peers and enthusiastically embraced by our readers, who in exchange give us their enduring loyalty. And it is the quality and commitment of that audience, which our advertisers find so compelling."
Sulzberger told the meeting that the Times Co., which recently lost its investment-grade credit rating from all major ratings firms, that "we are absolutely committed to creating greater shareholder value." Times Co. stock (NYSE: NYT) was trading at $4.96 a share with about an hour of trading left Wednesday afternoon. Times shares have lost 75 percent of their value in just the past year, and are a long way $45 to $50 a share they fetched in 2002.
Despite the sunken share price, which virtually every other publicly traded newspaper publisher has also experienced, Sulzberger said there were no plans to take the company private. He said the "steadfast support" of the Ochs-Sulzberger family, which controls the Times through super-voting shares, had helped it through these rough economic times.
"The Board's suspension of the dividend has resulted in a substantial sacrifice for all our shareholders, family included," he said.
Sulzberger also warmly endorsed Times Co. president and CEO Janet L. Robinson, whom he praised as an "inspirational leader" during a period in which the Times has cut jobs and salaries.
"She has proven that she has the intellectual and psychological wherewithal to effectively lead her colleagues into the future," he said. "I am proud to have her as our CEO and thank her for all she is doing."