The New York Times is hard up these days. It is selling its Manhattan building and trying to offload its interest in the Red Sox and its cable TV network. Circulation is down, and advertising revenues are getting killed by the internet and by the recession. What’s a newspaper to do?
Well, to start with, the Times should drastically hike its advertising rates. Huh? I thought you just said the recession is murdering advertising revenue. How can you possibly suggest raising rates?
I can because of the apparently inexhaustible supply of movie ads in the Times. Full pages and junior pages, telling us that Benjamin Button “sweeps you away,” Yes Man is “the best comedy of the year,” Valkyrie is “spine-tingling,” Last Chance Harvey is “too good to resist,” Slumdog Millionaire is “movie heaven,” Doubt is “the best picture of the year,” Bedtime Stories is “hysterically funny,” The Reader is “a masterpiece!” Seven Pounds is “a gift for moviegoers,” Milk is “an American classic,” Bolt is “the perfect holiday movie,” and Gran Torino is “a movie event.”
Then there are the message ads, full-page essays telling us that Israel must be defended, that the Arab Peace Initiative must be endorsed, that unions threaten the secret ballot. The Times lets all sorts of organizations use its pages as a megaphone. Nothing wrong in that; open discourse should be encouraged. But it is obvious (to me, at least) that the Times is renting that megaphone on the cheap.
Competition? Get real. Where else are these people going to go? The Times is the national newspaper. Movies need the Times. So does any group that wants to vent about any real or perceived injustice. The Times is Speaker’s Corner at Hyde Park, the paper of record that legitimizes everything. The Dolphins didn’t beat the Jets until the Times said so.
The list price for a full-page in the Times is about $142,000. There is an “advocacy” rate of about $64,000, and there was a flap over which rate the Times should have charged MoveOn for its tasteless ad in which Petraeus was headlined as “Betray Us.” But the point is, even $142,000 is laughably low for a page in the Times, which says it will hold rates steady in 2009. In my opinion, those who want that megaphone would want it just as badly at $250,000 or more.
As for the movies, even the most marginal of them seem to be eager to pony up for a full page. Maybe they’re not talking to us, but to those who give out the awards. Whatever, my hunch is that the Times could double its movie ad rates without losing a single customer. After all, how much is too much to advertise the greatest, most spine-tingling, most unforgettable, most astounding, most spellbinding masterpiece of the year?