Save the Media!
Lipman, Joanne, Newsweek
Byline: Joanne Lipman
Let the Times charge readers, says ad titan Martin Sorrell--but news needs subsidies, too.
Sir Martin Sorrell has always been a bit of a flamethrower. Today, the British advertising tycoon--who amassed one of the largest ad-agency groups in the world--is in fighting form, as he dissects the media landscape over a lunch of takeout deli in his office.
What about the $315 million AOL-Huffington Post merger, I say: is it a sustainable model for the future? "What do I know?" he says. "But having said that: no." He thinks the price--10 times 2010 revenue--is too high for an aggregator of other people's content.
How about Rupert Murdoch's The Daily, the iPad-only newspaper that charges a subscription fee? "I'm a fan of Rupert's," he answers diplomatically. "I think getting people to pay for content is very important. The tablet, The Daily, is the right way to go." But does The Daily work for him in terms of content and quality? "Maybe in time."
Then there's The New York Times's new paywall, introduced last week. "I certainly hope" it will work, he says. That doesn't sound terribly optimistic. "I'm realistic!" he says. Sorrell just doesn't need the Times as much as he used to, he says. "There are plenty of other newspapers around the world, and even in America, which have sites -- which are equally good--or can be less good and still be effective," he says. "We are bombarded with messages all the time. More means less."
Seriously, Sir Martin. Has anyone figured out the new media paradigm? "I don't think there's anybody that's cracked it," he says.
The 66-year-old executive has played the role of provocateur before. When I first met him more than 20 years ago, long before he was the knighted senior statesman he is today, he was a brash financial whiz kid. Immortalized by advertising legend David Ogilvy as "that odious little s--t," he muscled his way into the U.S. with hostile acquisitions of two storied ad agencies, J. Walter Thompson (1987) and Ogilvy & Mather (1989). In a front-page Wall Street Journal piece in 1989 I described him as "the most despised man on Madison Avenue. …