Forbes Blogger Steals $20,000 and 1 Million Pageviews from New York Times by Changing Headline
Now how’s that for a grabber? If it got your attention it just demonstrates how important headlines are in online journalism. Sensationalism, link bait, and a little SEO can be worth tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars to your organization.
The New York Times got into a bit of a dustup over a piece of its investigative reporting that became a runaway hit only after it appeared Kashmir Hill’s Not-So Private Parts blog on Forbes.
Nick O’Neill writes:
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but how much is a title worth? If the story that proceeds is any indicator, a title is worth over 6700 words and months of research. It all began Friday when the New York Times published an article “How Companies Learn Your Secrets“. It was an extremely long article which discussed how large companies like WalMart and Target collect data about your individual consumption patterns to figure out how to most efficiently make you happy. It was a great piece but there was one problem: it didn’t have the title it deserved.
The original title was “How Companies Learn Your Secrets.” Kashmir Hill, a writer at Forbes, realized this and quickly developed a condensed version of the article with a far more powerful title: “How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did“. It cut out the crap and got to the real shocker of the story. As of the writing of this story, the New York Times article has 60 likes and shares on Facebook versus 12,902 which the Forbes article has. The Forbes article also has a mind boggling 680,000 page views, a number that can literally make a writer’s career.
Even those numbers are a bit dated. The Forbes retelling will likely hit 1 million views before Monday morning. And beyond the pageview count, and prestige for the reporters involved, there’s a very real monetary cost associated with sloppy or overly-cautious headline writing. Let’s calculate.
A June 2010 report from Econsultancy pegs the average CPM for all news sites at $7 industry-wide. CPM stands for cost per mille and represents the amount of money publishers receive from display advertisements for each thousand pageviews. According to the report, the New York Times brand was receiving 32.5 million monthly viewers and 719 million pageviews in May of 2010. An average CPM of $7 drags down the likely value of display advertisements on the NYT, the website for the paper of record.
I tried to dig up some display advertising rates for NYT.com and I found a current rate sheet. That said, but I can’t conceive of anything less helpful. (The Times has a bit of attachment to opaque financial disclosures) Assuming that the current CPM for the New York Times is $20, the company forfeited $20,000 in potential advertising revenue to Forbes on the basis of a headline. My guess is that the Times has a much higher CPM than $20. Considering what staff journalists earn these days, a single headline cost The New York Times newsroom the equivalent several months of a reporter’s salary. And the story no doubt required the investment hundreds of man hours, and thousands of dollars in wages to. Unfortunately, it’s fair game and nothing will stop it from happening again.
The whole episode reminds me of the story from the Steve Jobs autobiography. In the early 1980s Jobs asked Gates and Microsoft to create a version visual interface, BASIC, for Apple’s Macintosh computers. In November of 1983, before Apple was able to ship its Apple IIs with a graphical user interface, Microsoft had already released an early version of Windows for IBM compatible machines, based on the product originally developed for Apple. Jobs was furious at Gates for ripping off the Windows operating system from Apple and summoned him to Cupertino for a brow beating. In a boardroom packed with Apple minions Gates calmly explained to Jobs that both Apple and Microsoft had stolen the idea from Xerox research, which they had been too slow to commercialize themselves. Gates told Jobs, “I think it’s more like we both had this rich neighbor named Xerox and I broke into his house to steal the TV set and found out that you had already stolen it.”
The rich neighbor is The New York Times in the news business. Almost every news outlet worth its salt rewrites original New York Times stories and tailors them for a specific audience. Parasitic properties like Gawker and Huffington Post would not exist were it not for the nourishment of a host like the Times. Today both are much larger and more robust organizations that publish plenty of original content.
Unfortunately for The New York Times Company, it is still years away from realizing the dollar value of its editorial influence, and its considerable investment in original reporting. In the meantime, expect the break-ins to continue unabated.