How Else Could The NY Times Have Spent $40 Million?

from the let's-come-up-with-some-ideas dept

While we’ve already been suitably stumped over the question of how the NY Times spent $40 million dollars to create the Emperor’s New Paywall, perhaps we should take a more proactive view and discuss what else they could have done with that $40 million to put it to use more productively. That link has a few suggestions, from creating better products to investing in startups. I’m still wondering why it didn’t use that money to simply create more value for users — more features, more tools to keep them coming back, greater access to journalists and each other, more community features, etc. So how else do people think they could have spent that $40 million more productively?

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Comments on “How Else Could The NY Times Have Spent $40 Million?”

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:Lobo Santo (profile) says:

And the answer is...

A friend of a friend of a family member (or whatever) got the contract and took gobs of money. A pittance was paid out of the gobs, and the remainder was spread around in kickbacks, undisclosed bonuses, “planning” meetings in a variety of tropical locales…

Most of the stuff is tax-deductible as a business expense, and this way certain “special” people can get lots of money from the company in a secretive manner without having to report it to the Infernal Revenue Service.

This is, of course, entirely speculative. Entirely my opinion, but it does appear to represent a working hypothesis on where the money went.

Jay says:

A contest to promote themselves all over the US as the #1 newspaper.

More comics by American or New York artists

Better promotions.

A forum to get ideas from the community

More informed journalism. (read: more objective journalism)

A huge donation to Child’s Play or even a game sub section.

I’d go on but it’s safe to say, there are a LOT of ways they could have spent this on something other than a poorly made Java wall.

trench0r (profile) says:

I was thinking the same thing, give away the print edition for a day, or a week, or whatever $40,000,000 is worth..

they also could have tried something less gimmicky than a see-through paywall… like slap bracelets (I know it sounds silly but I got one from Chegg and everyone I know is like OMG A SLAP BRACELET!!)

they could have used that money to partner with and advertise a deal with say, starbucks? dunkin donuts? a receipt from either store could get you a free printed paper?

speaking of gimmicks, how about a “special edition” printed paper that is in a magazine format, with glossy paper and everything, and make it cost the same as a normal paper. (that’s that scarce good, this reminds me of trent reznor’s color changing cds)

what else can I pull out of my ass or off the top of my head? you would think with $40,000,000 at stake, someone would have thought of better ideas than these, which I think are better than they one they went with…

Officeslacker says:

40 million dollar question

40 million would hire a boatload of journalists for a long time. Imagine the great stories they could have generated that would have driven eyeballs and attracted sponsors. Or they could have sponsored contests like the X-prize, but for the best independent news story that was submitted, generating all kinds of new ideas, goodwill and insight into the freelance reporting community.

Markus Hopkins (profile) says:


They could have funded research into how people today actually want to consume and interact with their content. What are people looking to get out of the NYT? Are they there for the hard hitting reporting, would they like to have more of a chance to discuss things with the authors of the articles, would they like to be able to vote for specific stories floating around the interwebs that they would like to see a specific member of the times staff write some commentary on? Do people wish there was an easier way for whistleblowers to submit their dirt to the NYT safely and anonymously? Maybe people want to tailored paper subscriptions, with their favorite writers appearing on the front page? They could have asked their readers ANYTHING, and done so for far less than $40 million dollars.

If you want one project they could have probably done for 40 mil, they could have created a curated database of source information of all of the research that has gone into every hard hitting NYT story (ever?) and charge for access to that (searchable, etc), along with a subscription for content added in the future, and as a bonus, use this DB internally to embed relevant source material on every story hosted on the site (at the very least going forward, and at best, retroactively). How would you like to see that? I know I would.

Hiiragi Kagami (profile) says:

So how else do people think they could have spent that $40 million more productively?


Was this a trick question because it’s April Fool’s Day?

If it’s serious, one idea would have been to use the money into a “content production factory” where people could submit their works to be used by the paper.

This would benefit the artists (credited), the paper (no license issues), and everyone’s happier for it.

But I still think strippers is the better answer.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: So how else do people think they could have spent that $40 million more productively?

If it’s serious, one idea would have been to use the money into a “content production factory” where people could submit their works to be used by the paper.

This would benefit the artists (credited), the paper (no license issues), and everyone’s happier for it.

Except that would ruin their “only professional journalists can do journalism” story.

Steve R. (profile) says:

Forbes Seems Proactive

The soul of media: For Forbes, it?s editing. Lewis DVorkin writes: “On the Web today, knowledgeable people can publish content for next to nothing. With the tools of social media, those same people can build followings for next to nothing. Both are what Forbes and other traditional players do ? for way more than nothing. Bottom line: there are lots of editor-curators out there.”

So how does Forbes intend to compete? “Our full-time staff of experienced editors and reporters is now both covering the news and recruiting hundreds of qualified contributors ? in effect, curators ? to create the content our voracious audience requires.”

The Times could have been spent it’s $40,000,000 whining and dining those with popular blogs to feed the Times content for next to nothing. Isn’t the purpose of media the distribution of information? Free content also means greater retention of advertising dollars. A win win.

Dave says:


You’re thinking too logically and rationally… 🙂 They just want the most mindlessly easy solution.

If they were charged 40 mill for that POS, man, somebody must have seen them coming!

It’s just like in my silly little city. There are no ideas, but they’re all fired up about making money by ticketing cars that aren’t illegally parked. That’s their method of getting some free money. Much easier than actually being creative.

Danny (profile) says:

Serious Answer

Most of the answers above are either frivolous or snarky; I’d like to attempt one that isn’t.

The Times might have invested in planning and then implementing a vision of the newsmedium of the future – or at least of the next generation.

The first step of this is research. Since I haven’t invested in that research, I can only guess what the outcomes would be. Here are some suggestions based on my guesses.

1. Everyblock is a great example of what a newsmedium quilted together based on geography might look like. Everyblock is limited in its data sources, presents little news, and poorly supports community interaction. However, the core of a true nationwide repository of information organized by street address is compelling. The Times could take this basic architecture, add to it geocoded reporting (either their own, or through partnership, the reporting of many others), leverage more and better geocoded databases, and build a true interactive social community around these news and data items. Such an integrated whole would be compelling. There is little in this that plays to the Times brand or core competencies (in fact I see it as a better project for Gannett), but it is one way the times might have invested that would have a greater long term payback.

Note that I haven’t directly addressed revenue model for this. Several models (advertising, subscription for value added features, a “groupon-like” sales model all might play a role.) The basic idea here is the value proposition is inherent online and mostly new.

2. The Times could go the route of Zite or Flipboard and present views of the news totally customized to the individual. While Z and F are limited to repurposing other org’s RSS feeds to provide content to the user; here both the Times’ brand and high quality original content (plus its ability to negotiate content trade with other high quality publications) enables them to produce a compelling product. It could still contain RSS feeds, Facebook, Tweets, etc. But the news content would set it apart.

They would need to develop a compelling interface (Zite’s is great, but could still be improved upon). Forty million can buy lots of good UX work. The interface could support display advertising, but advertising could also be individualized as well.

Anyway, those are two ideas to move the discussion forward.

Anonymous Coward says:

Mike, the 40 million is actually pretty easily spent.

First, you have rent. Although this is part of the the NYT group, each department and each project has to pay for the space it uses. So if they took even a dozen cubes and common office space, and write that over say a 3 year period, you have already spent some money.

Now, hire the people, give them benefits, computers, legal software (no piracy here), buy the cubicles, etc… again, figure it runs about 3 years maybe more.

Then look at the conversion systems. That means going back over a whole bunch of content and systems to make sure that everything is compatible and properly serving the pages. It is also likely a good time to upgrade some of the servers and networking, perhaps to impliment IPV6 into the internal network, etc. Remember, there is no data that has to share on the fly between multiple servers, plenty of work to do there.

…and so on.

The only reason you freak out on 40 million is likely because you have never done a large scale project while attempting to maintain the current systems in place, and to convert invisibly over time.

There is plenty to do, while amounts may have been charged to this project, there are likely benefits to other parts of the organization.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Response to: Anonymous Coward on Apr 1st, 2011 @ 2:14pm

Don’t know much about IT projects do you? Everything you just mentioned would be budgeted differently for tax reasons… also, you have no idea how they are structured now and if it would take significant monies to make those changes.

Also, why would they convert anything when the only change is an overlay? Please stick to topics you understand and don’t create bad excuses for bad decisions…

Spaceman Spiff (profile) says:

Re: (Not so) easily spent

I’ve worked with the design team as one of the 3 principal architects and Lead/Principal Engineer that designed and built a 10M loc system that runs most of the semiconductor, flat panel display, and disc drive fabs in the world today. It took about 3 years, but the cost was far under the supposed $40M USD that The Times spent for their paywall. If that is indeed what it cost them, they were robbed. I think we figured our developments costs at around $10M-$15M USD for the initial release that actually ran a 300mm fab, including the time value contributed by the semiconductor manufacturers’ staff that worked with us during the design process.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: (Not so) easily spent

I think that the number is just a number, because we don’t know what is all put in there. Remember that you are looking at floor space in New York City (rather pricey), amongst other things.

Most importantly, we don’t know if, example, they entirely redid their network, upgraded servers, changed data centers, created a CDN, or any other numbers of things.

We also don’t know how the company applies costs. Example, do they push a percentage of the “content creation” expense of running the newspaper onto the online edition?

40 million for some Java just doesn’t add up in the slightest. My feeling is that it is one of those big numbers, taken out of context by the haters, and pumped up to falsely make them look like idiots. Mike is pretty good at that sort of thing.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

First, you have rent. Although this is part of the the NYT group, each department and each project has to pay for the space it uses. So if they took even a dozen cubes and common office space, and write that over say a 3 year period, you have already spent some money.

Trust me, there is no way in hell “rent” is included in the cost here. It’s easy to dismiss your comments when you make statements like this that show you know nothing about budgeting or finance.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Trust me, there is no way in hell “rent” is included in the cost here.

Even if it were, suggesting that it took a dozen people three years to come up with a paywall that is extremely confusing and basically doesn’t work isn’t exactly a compelling defense of the NYT. I’m a programmer, and I’ve written stuff that works better than that in (a lot) less time and with smaller teams.

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