Nate Silver, the New York Times blogger and statistician who called the last U.S. presidential election with eerie accuracy based on his polling models, said something needlessly insulting about his former colleagues on a B.S. Report podcast.
His statement — that the sales staff "isn't that good" — only adds to the apparent bad blood between Silver and The Times. A number of Times' staff apparently "disliked" Silver's work during the election; Silver, in turn, believed that a lot of the punditry the Times engaged in during the election was "fundamentally useless."
Silver did huge things for the Times while his blog, FiveThirtyEight, was parked there. He became the most influential voice on election, after repeatedly proving to critics that, in fact, statistics and probability models were a lot more reliable at foreshadowing election results than just about any other kind of analysis. It was politics' "Moneyball" moment.
But the Times also did huge things for Silver — such as introducing him to a vast national audience that had never heard of his influential FiveThirtyEight blog, which he ran independently before hooking up with Times.
So Silver's recent comment about the sale staff seems churlish, and lacking in grace. Here it is, as quoted by Deadspin:
"I feel like this will get me in trouble, maybe. But I feel like with all the traffic the Times has right now it should be turning a much larger profit than it does right now. Right?" he said. "They get so many eyeballs and so much high quality traffic—the demographics are really good, people with a lot of disposable income—that it should be a goldmine for advertisers. If you're having trouble I don't think you should blame the environmental conditions so much as maybe your sales staff isn't that good."
Silver's solution? Banner ads should be made to generate 10% more revenue annually. He didn't give details.
Digital advertising revenues declined 2.7% in the second quarter of 2013 and 3.3% in the first six months of 2013, primarily due to declines in the real estate and help-wanted classified advertising.
So sure, digital sales are down. But this idea of not blaming the environment is naive: Making large sums of money from online ads is a terrifically difficult business. The Times currently makes about $52 million per quarter from digital advertising. That's not a huge sum, but for an online display business it's genuinely sizeable. There are few digital news media properties larger than that.
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