"The American news business is living through revolutionary times. For The New York Times, which I joined six months ago, it means catapulting the Grey Lady into a world very different from the one in which she spent her first century and a half: multimedia, multi-platform, multi pretty much everything.

There are some things we’re not going to take risks with. The quality, authority and accuracy of our journalism. Our values, including the time-honoured but still vital tradition of keeping our journalism independent from the commercial interests of the company. In the age of so-called ‘native’ advertising in which the boundary between editorial and commercial content is more and more frequently blurred, that tradition of maintaining a clear line between the journalism and the business of The New York Times is more important than ever.

But we will not secure the future of The Times without the kind of bold innovation – in products and services, in
business-model – which is intrinsically and necessarily risky. Two years ago The Times launched a new digital pay model, essentially asking users of The Times on digital to do what more than a million print users of the newspaper were already doing, which is to pay a regular subscription in return for extensive access to our journalism.

The consensus among the experts was that it wouldn’t work, was foolhardy in fact and not needed. People just weren’t prepared to pay for high quality content on the internet and, besides, wasn’t digital advertising enough – wouldn’t it grow until, just as with print advertising in the golden age of physical newspapers, it alone was enough to support America’s newsrooms?

In fact the launch of the pay model is the most important and most successful business decision made by The New York Times in many years. We have around 700,000 paid digital subscribers across the company’s products so far and a new nine-figure revenue-stream which is still growing. Much of the rest of the US newspaper industry is now following suit. And developing this pay model, launching a suite of new subscription products to attract additional new subscribers, is central to our plans for the future.

What’s interesting, though, was that initial widespread skepticism. It won’t work. It’s mad. They’re barking up the
wrong tree.

In many ways, the thing that gets disrupted in a disruptive age is the conventional wisdom. Wherever you end up, in this country or abroad, starting your own business or joining an established company large or small, you’ll bump into conventional wisdom and all the apparently excellent advice that flows from it. But the definition of a disruptive age is one in which the discontinuities outnumber and overwhelm the continuities and in which predictions based on the past or the smooth projection of current trends into the future frequently prove unsound. Conventional wisdom tries valiantly to keep up, to recalibrate in the light of recent developments, but because it cannot foresee transformational breakthroughs or the kind of behavioral and business-model pivots which digital technology makes possible, it never can.

Take my industry. The movies are finished. TV advertising is dead. Exactly what happened to music will happen to TV. Nobody wants news anymore. No one will ever pay for anything on the internet. Not just said, but said widely and widely believed. And – for the most part and within the time horizon which the prophets themselves were suggesting – just plain wrong.

All of the strategically successful things I’ve been involved in – whether a set of new TV channels or developing the BBC’s digital on-demand service, the i-Player – have had this thing in common: that, at the point of launch, pretty much everyone not involved in the project has agreed that it was going to be a total disaster. In modern media, you could make the case that the best way forward is to listen carefully to what the industry has to say and then do the exact opposite."

Texte de l'intervention du nouveau directeur général du New York Times, Mark Thompson devant les étudiants de la Business School de Columbia University, New York, en mai 2013. Où il note le succès de la version payante du site du quotidien (malgré tout les commentaires négatifs faits à l'époque par l'industrie), et souligne l'intérêt d'oser des solutions de ruptures. Une conclusion choc: "In modern media, you could make the case that the best way forward is to listen carefully to what the industry has to say and then do the exact opposite."

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