The Times is a’changing under NI Internet chief

Former architect Adam Browne, now NI’s Internet publishing manager, is leading The Times’ battle for Website supremacy.

He may be a qualified architect but, for the past couple of years, the Brixton flat of Adam Browne, Internet publishing manager at News International, has remained in a state of disrepair.

The 35-year-old Vancouver-born Canadian, who prefers his Vespa scooter to get to Fortress Wapping, arrived in London during the late Eighties. When that boom ended, Browne opted to stay on despite zero employment options in his first chosen trade.

Rapidly acquired skills in desktop publishing led to a temporary contract at NI in 1992, working on the IT side of graphic design for the group’s newspaper title. And now Browne finds himself in charge, day-to-day, of NI’s electronic publishing operation.

His break into new media began in 1995 when he “muscled in on a couple of meetings and asked difficult questions” as Andrew Burke, managing director of LineOne, began putting into place plans for an online version of The Times.

Burke’s promotion to managing director of LineOne, the online service provider jointly owned by BT and NI, led to Browne taking over as Internet publishing manager at NI at the beginning of this year.

His prime responsibility is The Times/Sunday Times Website, launched in spring 1996, which now claims to be in the top five rankings of the UK’s busiest sites.

It generates 6 million page impressions a month from 135,000 individual visitors. The Electronic Telegraph may dispute it, but Browne claims The Times’ Website is the best-used, newspaper-based site in Britain – a claim he hopes will be backed by a move towards providing proper auditing data by all major UK sites in the near future.

The site, he concedes, remains largely promotional despite attracting respectable amounts of advertising. But the business plan is to establish it as a profit centre within the electronic publishing arm of the group as soon as possible.

“At this point, the business plan is [for the site] not to be a profit centre,” he says. “But in the long run it must make money.”

The site is very popular with overseas Internet users and this overspill of international users is an audience which should appeal to a number of global brands, says Browne. But at present, such overseas traffic is too often seen as waste by local media planners for brands buying ads on the Internet.

As the Internet advertising market slowly cranks up, Browne’s unit is also generating income streams from an exclusive deal to supply editorial content from The Sun and News of the World to LineOne.

That move may have guaranteed income for Browne’s operation. But the exclusive nature of the deal means that The Sun and News of the World cannot benefit from the wider promotional value of a universally accessible Website.

In the battle for electronic revenue, NI introduced a subscription-backed site for the Times Educational Supplement in April, as part of a strategy to develop paid-for content in markets which can sustain charges.

Browne insists the introduction of a 100 annual fee for the paper’s full service is proving successful, but declines to reveal how many subscribers the site has attracted.

So is there any scope to win revenue from The Times’ Website through subscriptions?

In the short term, the answer is no, says Browne. “At the moment, the market for subscriptions on the Web is very limited because there is so much free content.”

But he adds: “That’s not to say we are not looking at niche products which may fall into pay-per-use applications or subscription models – it is something we are looking at with great interest.”

New Media is edited by Michael Kavanagh, who can be contacted on 100413.3070@compuserve.com

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