A Fatal Blow to The International Herald Tribune Brand

The New-York Times Company may wish to convince readers of the International Herald Tribune (IHT) newspaper that renaming it as the International New-York Times (INYT) is nothing more than a change of name, not of content or substance. However, this act of re-branding the newspaper to co-align it with the US-based brand could mean overseas much more because the IHT has grown into an iconic brand and an institute of culture, primarily in Europe but also in Asia-Pacific, the Middle East and Latin America. Truly, since its inception as the New-York Herald 126 years ago and through its past forms as the New-York Herald Tribune (1920s’-1967) and the International Herald Tribune (1967-2013), the newspaper has been directed towards American expatriates living abroad as their connection with home. Nevertheless, the newspaper has become popular among a much wider audience of English readers native in many countries, giving them a foreign or global perspective on news in their region and beyond. How necessary was it to rebrand the IHT as INYT at this time?

Statements made by senior executives at the New-York Times Company suggest that they are aspiring to integrate the global edition of the New-York Times closely with its US-based operation and editorial board. From a marketing perspective, the company aims at establishing a stronger consolidated brand of New-York Times globally (i.e., in the US and outwards)  with an eye focused on the digital (online) news media, worldwide. That means a tighter identification of the international newspaper/news-site with the United States.

It is important to reckon that hitherto the IHT offered an appealling, interesting and comfortable blend of local atmosphere, culture and attitudes with the “American Way”. The New-York Herald Tribune, which existed before NYT became an owner, has developed this approach originally and specifically in Paris, then extended all over Europe. Its key force of attraction was the respect it has paid for many years to the culture and values of Europe. So much that for an extended period during the 20th century there existed only the European edition of the New-York Herald Tribune, based in Paris, without its New-York edition that went bankrupt. Following the re-branding of IHT under the title of New-York Times, its management intends to take steps to increase managerial and editorial control from New-York, which risk the global edition of losing that special touch with the local habitats of its various market destinations overseas.

In 1967 the publishers of The Washington Post and The New-York Times salvaged together the defunct Herald Tribune from its previous owner and re-created the brand and format of The International Herald Tribune. The newspaper got its best reputation and expanded outside Europe during that period spanning the last 46 years. Its appeal could emanate from (a) bringing a combination of opinions and perspectives on current affairs from journalists and columnists with different political orientations and background expertise; (b) reliance on the resources of the Washington Post and the New-York Times as well as journalists originated in foreign countries (e.g., at their bases in Paris, London, and Hong-Kong); and (c) their interesting and novel coverage of topics such as science and technology, art, and not least, fashion.

However, the IHT changed its course in 2003 when the New-York Times Company forced the Washington Post into selling its share in IHT to the former. Thus NYT took full control of the newspaper. It is therefore, actually, during the past ten years that the New-York Times has gradually turned IHT singly into the Global Edition of NYT. Particularly in the last three years it could be noticed that the IHT was adopting the liberal line associated with the NYT in the US and a stronger presence of its home journalists. Furthermore, the company marginalised the original website of IHT in 2009 and merged its content with that of NYT.

When explaining their move of rebranding, the editor of IHT in Europe Richard Stevenson argued during an interview in October 2013: ” A couple of words in the name of the paper are changing (but) this paper’s name has changed multiple times throughout its history. The name change on the print newspaper does nothing to change the DNA of the operation here. It is simply bringing more of the resources of the New-York Times to the mix” (1). Stevenson is clearly trying to play down the significance of that ‘couple of words’ known as the “Herald Tribune” but he may err in uncomprehending its meaning and value to news readers in Europe and other regions. The name of the newspaper has indeed changed before, yet the expression “Herald Tribune” was the leading part of the paper’s name for nearly a hundred years. Moreover, it has become a symbol in the news media of a genuine international, open-minded news-source. Even more seriously there is reason to doubt if NYT can maintain the DNA of the “global edition” as Stevenson promises. The power of IHT has arisen in part from being only implicitly American — that is, the American voice in the newspaper was more subtle. A stronger reliance on resources of NYT in the US could lead to diminishing their sensitivity to events outside the US . Effective already, wherever an online reader touches a hyperlink on the front page of INYT (e.g., an article’s title, a topic on the right-hand banner), one is passed to content on a page of NYT — the INYT website appears to be no more than a facade. How does that maintain the DNA of the International Herald Tribune?

At the core of this new strategy is concern of NYT how to expand its exposure and strengthen its position in the digital media because that is where the future lies.  Circulation of print newspapers has been declining and revenue from advertising dropping almost continuously over the past decade as more news readers turn to the Web and mobile devices (e.g., using designated apps). It has led to predictions of the demise of print newsmedia any time soon — which has not happened yet but could still be imminent. Even Arthur Sulzberger, chairman of NYT Company from the dominant owner-family, announced at a conference in September 2010 that the NYT is expected to “stop printing the New-York Times sometime in the future, date TBD” (2), a rather ambiguous intention that yet attracted great attention. Last year the founder of Netscape and digital venture capitalist Marc Andreessen urged Sulzberger and NYT in response to act as soon as possible and not wait for another five or ten years. An important development that nonetheless has already taken place is the establishment by NYT and other news publishers of various paywall models on the Internet in order to put a value-tag on news information online and thereby starting to generate revenue from viewership vis-a-vis print circulation.

  • Revenue (US$) from circulation, which accounts for more than half of the total revenue of the company’s NYT Media Group (NYT+IHT), grew by 8.2% in the second quarter of 2013, though it could not offset the decline of 11.4% in revenue from advertising (3). Note however that the report is vague in referring to “circulation”: It is impossible to tell whether the increase reflects return of readers to print issues due to the paywall charges online or is it derived from subscribers of NYT online and in mobile apps.

The New-York Times wants to resemble other prominent newsmedia broadcasters like CNN and BBC and publications such as Wall Street Journal (WSJ), The Times of London, The Telegraph, and Financial Times that are recognized in the same name at home and in countries abroad. The ability to develop into a global brand depends on appearing with the same (root) name everywhere. Especially on the Internet, it is argued, the New-York Times has to appear with that name to be on the same playing level with its close competitors. The NYT, it should be noted, is already accessible online for several years and it is a familiar brand whose news stories are often cited around the world — all that regardless of IHT! The problem is that the NYT is not progressing as the management has expected:

  • The NYT brand is lagging in number of unique monthly visitors to its website (~40m in June 2013) behind CNN (~100m) and BBC (~70m); NYT has about the same number of visitors as the Guardian’s (affiliate of IHT in the UK) and leading on WSJ (~30m). NYT has also shown no increase compared to June last year vis-a-vis improvements for CNN, BBC and The Guardian (figures from comScore published by FT.com, 3).
  • Stephen Dunbar-Johnson, publisher of IHT, revealed while announcing their move in July that about a third of the 41m unique visitors of NYT come from outside the US; however, just 10% of NYT digital subscribers (70,000 out of 708,000) are located outside the US (3) — a gap marking the international weakness of their brand.

The expectation is that by bringing the IHT global edition explicitly under the umbrella name of NYT it will enhance the global image of NYT and attract more subscribers from outside the US. Mark Thompson, chief executive of NYT and former director-general of the BBC, suggested that the IHT’s heritage could be used together with existing international audience of NYT “to build a truly global force in news across digital and print under one brand” (3). There is undoubtedly good logic in joining forces to develop a stronger target brand on the world’s stage. But which brand was in better position to fulfil that role ? NYT was actually trying to compete in recent years with its own global edition name-titled International Herald Tribune, a confusing situation. Moreover, NYT in fact closed down its older international edition in 1967 to make space for developing the IHT. Now, the new move implies that the heritage of IHT so well built-up should be sacrificed to help the NYT succeed as a global brand after it failed to do so alone but really in the shadow of its own global edition, that is IHT.

The strategic thinking that appears to be behind the rebranding act is not only strange but sad. The NYT company does not disclose financial details on its two newspapers but it suggests that IHT was really doing better than NYT. All that Mr. Dunbar-Johnson was ready to tell the Financial Times was that “while the New-York Times does not break out the performance of the IHT, it is profitable” with no further details given (3). This raises a strong suspicion that NYT could not match the performance of IHT and consequently was laid as a burden on the shoulders of IHT re-named INYT.

A stronger global presence of an NYT brand in the digital arena is presented by top management as the main motivation for its move. However, re-inventing NYT as an international brand was not that much necessary. The NYT and IHT newspapers have been different products in attributes and target markets-audiences — one as its American arm and the other as its global arm. The company could have continued to develop the relationship between them, exchange news stories, and emphasise the linkage between their brands: The global arm of IHT benefits from the professional quality and credibility of its US-arm (and parent) NYT while the latter enjoys the popularity and prestige of a global arm IHT that “talks” to many people around the world, Americans and non-Americans alike. Many global companies hold a corporate website next to designated websites for prime products and brands. One just has to make sure consumers know how the websites are related while distinct.

Since the rebranding has already occurred, the INYT needs to keep and add to its bases as “legs” in key target regions in order to maintain the international DNA of IHT. There are already hints that the company may close its base in Paris because of high cost of keeping its staff in France.  While France may not have the same diplomatic and cultural clout it used to have 60 years ago it is still a pivotal player in Europe in many ways. If inevitable, NYT must consider other locations (e.g., Berlin-Germany, Amsterdam-Netherlands) on the European continent since removing that “leg” might ruin the INYT international stature that IHT enjoyed. Relying on its London base could signal to other European countries that America truly does not understand them.

The New-York Times wishes to become a familiar and appraised brand name worldwide like names of other newspapers/news-sites and that is understandable. Yet its situation is different from most others — it already had a strong global arm and unlike others that actually publish the same news-product everywhere NYT-IHT had the advantage of a news-product better adjusted to serve readers round the globe. They could have kept a portfolio of two strong products and associated brands without being suspected of nourishing the ego of NYT. Now INYT must work hard to protect and enhance its connection to places and people outside the United States.

Ron Ventura, Ph.D. (Marketing)


1.  “DNA Unchanged in Renamed International Herald Tribune”, The Australian (Online, by AFP), 16 October 2013 http://www.theaustralian.com.au/media/dna-unchanged-in-renamed-international-herald-tribune/story-e6frg996-1226740843145

2.  “New-York Times Will End Print Edition (Eventually), Publisher Says”, The Atlantic (Online, a news agency item), 9 October 2010

3. “Newly Rebranded International NYT Focuses on Digital”, Financial Times (FT.com Online), 25 July 2013  http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/3d0edc40-f4a5-11e2-8459-00144feabdc0.html

Additional Sources:

NYT Company Website www.nytco.com — See their History Timeline

“In Digital Era, New-York Times Eyes Growth Abroad with Global Edition Replacing Herald Tribune”, Washington Post (Online, by AP), 15 October 2013 http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/in-digital-era-new-york-times-eyes-growth-abroad-with-global-edition-replacing-herald-tribune/2013/10/15/efa1a576-3579-11e3-89db-8002ba99b894_story.html

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