This past Friday I attended The New York Times Developer Network’s inaugural API seminar. The event was aimed at promoting their roster of existing APIs and launching a new one, for their Times People social network. Organizers had hoped to use the event as a way to reach out to independent developers who would, in turn, presumably use the APIs in innovative ways. In fact, the sprinkling of “hackers” in the audience were overshadowed by a wide range of media-types. Which, despite initial intent, wasn’t all bad for the NYT since the media-types did a bang up job of publicizing the event.
I’m a fan of the New York Times’ website. It is a consistently high quality experience and, as such, run by one of the few mainstream news companies that understands the digital world. It’s clear that the people running the NYT are aware of how important increasing digital consumption habits are to their current and future success. The writing quality is generally high, but more importantly, in recent years, the NYT have released a steady stream of site features, standalone applications, and APIs that together amount to a digital experience that far exceeds that of its competitors.
The recent financial woes of the NYT, and the newspaper business as a whole, have been widely publicized. And while the NYT’s new “open” strategy doesn’t appear to be a last ditch attempt at staying solvent, it is worth asking: What’s in it for them?
As a marketer, I have encouraged several key clients to develop an API. They were all, like the NYT, large national or international brands. Lots of big brands are sitting on huge amounts of data that can, potentially, be shaped into useful services by either the brands themselves, or by developers enthusiastic about what they can do with a new dataset.
There are two reasons why an API makes sense for the NYT, new revenue and free advertising.
Low volume use by a third-party can encourage innovation and often amounts to free advertising in some very interesting places (the risk is having your brand represented in a way you can’t control). If a developer hacks together a mashup using your data and it’s interesting enough that people use it a little bit, your brand wins some credibility, exposure, and in the case of the NYT, readership in a community where it otherwise might not have any.
If a third-party developed service becomes successful and moves to the realm of high-volume use, your brand could wind up with a new source of revenue. This is why the terms of service for most APIs restrict free use to somewhere in the neighborhood of five thousand queries per day. Anything beyond that costs. So assuming whoever developed a service that gets enough traffic to exceed that number of queries can monetize (easier said than done) the publisher of the API should stand to make some money it wasn’t making before.