Times Co. gleans reader feedback via Insight Lab site

NEW YORK: The New York Times Co. has launched a consumer-facing discussion Web site, which solicits feedback about its products and services, as part of the company's increasing public outreach.

NEW YORK: The New York Times Co. has launched a consumer-facing discussion Web site, which solicits feedback about its products and services, as part of the company's increasing public outreach.

The New York Times Insight Lab hosts online discussion forums, surveys, and quick polls. The company is using it to glean information about existing and yet-to-be-released products and services, said Alex Wright, director of user experience and product research at the Times Co.

“We feel like it gives us an opportunity to open up lines of communication in a direct way so we can have an ongoing discussion with some of our most loyal readers,” he said. “The Times is looking at its business model around its digital strategy, and we've been trying to inform that process by making sure we are tapping into customer feedback.”

The company is also conducting in-person interviews with readers, as well as studies and focus groups, in the outreach effort, Wright added.

The initiative occurs as the newspaper industry is facing tremendous challenges from the recession and the erosion of three long-time revenue sources: print circulation, print advertising, and classified advertising. Although it reported a second-quarter profit this year, the Times Co. has seen its advertising revenues drop 30% and 27% in the second and first quarters of 2009, respectively.

The Insight Lab's own data also highlights a shift to online readership. A recent survey found that only 37% of respondents said they read the Times in print, while 34% said they used to, and 29% said they did not. However, 60% said they read NYTimes.com “several times a day,” while 29% said they do so once a day.

Wright said it's “no secret that the newspaper industry across the board is looking at new ideas about how to engage with readers.”

“We've been increasingly trying to find ways to get customers more engaged in the process of developing products and services,” he said.

The site, moderated by the same rules as comments on the Times Web site, has nearly 4,000 registered users, according to Wright. He added that discussion of the service on Twitter and other social media sites has helped it reach that number, originally the company's membership target, more quickly than expected.

While the site targets the media outlet's loyal users, it is open to all consumers age 18 and older, Wright added.

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