Boycott Watch  
February 22, 2008
New York Times Boycott called over McCain lobbyist story.
Summary: A poorly conceived boycott that failed before it was even launched
    The New York Times reported a possible affair by presumptive Republican presidential candidate John McCain (R-NV), but the allegations against McCain appear to be thin at best. While the politics of the claim are being covered in the media, a boycott of the New York Times has been called because of the report, and that is Boycott Watch's venue.

    This would not be the first time the New York Times has been boycotted over accuracy of its reporting. The paper has been the target of several boycott calls for an anti-Israel bias over the years. One regular NYT boycotter is Herb Denenberg of the website Denenberg's Dump, a poignant blogger who has also called for the boycott of other newspapers for the same anti-Israel bias. The question at hand is if boycotts against newspapers work.

    Before answering that question, one first needs to understand newspapers today verses twenty and even sixty years ago. Before Cable TV, newspapers were the news kings, reporting the details that were left out of the half-hour nightly national newscasts by the broadcast networks. What actually gets printed in newspapers these days is driven by the Internet reporting of those same newspapers, but not that much has changed. Newspapers used to break news when the "extra" edition was sold by paperboys on street corners. Today's breaking news stories are broken on the Internet by the very same newspapers. The only real difference is instead of printing advertisements; you see them on your computer screen.

    The Cleveland Plain Dealer is typical of major newspapers, as they produce stories for the Internet; including using their own video crews for their website, thus competing with local television newscasts. The Plain Dealer, like most newspapers, has a 4PM meeting to decide which Internet posted stories will actually get in their only daily print edition. In many cases, the Internet stories are more detailed than the printed story because of space constraints. This may also explain why newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal charge for their online versions - not having to pay for physical printing allows more content to be disseminated at a lower cost, and at the same time it creates an added value for that service.

    Most newspapers allow free access to their online edition by instead making money from online advertisers. The question for a newspaper is will they generate more money from the collective pennies per page views, or can they get a larger subscription fee from each reader despite a limited readership. Considering the fact that online advertisers may pay as little as $5.00 per 1,000 ad impressions, the answer depends on one website statistic: pages per visitor. Publications with a large readership but low page displays are better off with subscription fees, especially if your ads are not targeted, which is hard to accomplish when you don't know your readers because few page displays mean limited to no browser cookie data mining. Targeted Internet ads are based on data mining, resulting in far more money per ad impression than general hit-or-miss ads. In fact, some campaigns can be targeted to people working within one particular building but could also be relatively expensive.

    These factors are critical in a newspaper boycott. The fact is that newspapers, especially the print versions, are very sensitive to boycotts because of the high initial and fixed costs per print run. A very strong newspaper boycott resulting in a 5% distribution drop can result in a dramatic revenue drop because of thin margins.

    In the case of the previous Israel related newspaper boycotts, people have made phone calls to drop the newspaper which have been noticed by management, but the volume of calls is unknown. In 2002, Boycott Watch reported a boycott by pro-Israel groups against the Philadelphia Inquirer in which we simply posted the boycotters complaint and the response by the Philadelphia Inquirer which answered all of the boycotters issues.

    Newspaper readers tend to be creatures of habit. They read the newspapers they love, and usually in the same order every day, be it sports, the comics or the front page first. As such, newspaper boycotts are hard to establish unless the newspaper does something totally outrageous, which brings us back to the New York Times boycott call over the report about McCain.

    The boycott call was made on Your World with Neil Cavuto on the Fox News Channel, were former NYT reporter Mr. JP Freire, but there is a problem - Republicans generally don't read the NYT anyhow, so that boycott simply won't go far. If, however, such a story would have been about Hillary Clinton or Barak Obama, such a boycott would have worked because even if a very small percentage of actual NYT readers would be willing to break their habits, the total volume of boycotters would be enough to impact publishing revenues.

    Still, McCain supporters probably don't read the NYT anyhow, which Freire even stated, which makes the boycott somewhat moot. To top it off, when Cavuto asked Freire if his boycott would target NYT advertisers, Freire backed down. As such, the boycotter did not take his own boycott call seriously and even if he did, consumer trends indicate this boycott is not going to be effective.

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