Rise of digital subscriptions at The New York Times

Print circulation and print advertising used to the bread and butter of news outlets. The Internet came along and also turned the industry onto its head. Digital subscriptions suddenly became possible. Folks started to pay for online access more and more; which would cannibalize the print business. As fewer readers read the papers, print advertising took a hit. Advertising became annoying to users who were willing to pay for the luxury of reading content in peace.

News outlets have to respond to survive. Names such as New York Times, Wall Street Journals, Washington Post or The Atlantic are leading the charge among outlets to have a strong subscription business. I spent some time digging through the numbers from The Times’ earnings reports to see how its digital subscription transformed over the years. This is how you can understand NYT business

The digital sub count and digital news sub count reach all time high in Q3 2019

The gap between Digital News Subscription Revenue and Print Subscription has been contracting since 2016

In terms of its importance to the subscription segment, digital subscription revenue has been on the rise. In Q3 2019, it made up slightly more than 43% of the total subscription business, the all-time high mark

Hence, digital subscription increasingly became an important part of the total revenue

First look at Disney Plus

Disney+, the biggest initiative and priority in the near future of the iconic company, went live today in the US and Canada. I have been using it for 2-3 hours and below is the summary of my experience so far.

The sign-up is pretty standard and smooth. Nothing major. Even though there was some reported difficulty in finding the app on Apple Store

Fairly expectedly, the app encountered some technical issues which users widely reported here. I have had my fair share as well

That led to Disney+ Help twitter page issued the statement below

In addition to the technical mishaps, I was a bit frustrated by the User Interface. While you can download episodes from the mobile app, I couldn’t find the feature on the browser version. I am not sure if that was intended to limit the downloads, but I was under impression that it was possible.

At the end of a movie, you are presented with a suggestion like the screenshot below, but there is no way to get back to the homepage or the category page

There is an “Extras” tab under the main banner of a movie/episode. They can be never-seen-before clips that viewers will appreciate. However, they could have made the tab more visible or added it to the end, in my opinion

There are some Extras clips on the mobile app that are not available on disneyplus.com.

At the bottom of the website, there is a tab called “Interest-based ads”. On that page, you can choose to opt out of behavioral targeting by ads companies on disneyplus.com

In terms of content, I am excited about National Geographic and Marvel. But to succeed, I do think Disney Plus has quite a long way to go and much to improve if they want to augment user experience

Disclaimer: I own Disney stocks in my personal portfolio

Smaller government or smarter governing?

One of the conservative ideologies in governing is that we need a smaller government and freer enterprise. The premise behind that thinking, I suspect, is that we trust companies to do well by doing good. The problem is they don’t often do so.

Here is the new initiative by AT&T

Enjoy more data. Starting with your October 2019 bill, you’ll get an additional 15GB of data on your Mobile Share plan. This bonus data comes with a $10 price increase. AT&T confirmed to The Verge that there’s no way to opt out of this “bonus.” Here’s the company’s statement:

“We are communicating with some customers regarding changes to their mobile plans. Customers have the choice to change their plan at any time and can always contact us with questions or to understand their options.”

This probably won’t surprise AT&T customers one iota, of course — this is the company that was just finally slapped on the wrist with a $60 million fine for throttling what were supposedly “unlimited” plans back in 2011, and the company that’s now pocketing an extra $800 million in “admin fees” every year after more than doubling that inexplicable surcharge last June. This is the company that’s now making you pay its property taxes on your business internet bill, while it repeatedly jacks up the rates of its few remaining grandfathered unlimited cellular plans.

Source: The Verge

The predatory practice is so disturbing that I don’t have the word to describe it.

Another example is Boeing with their 737 Max woe.

“The culture was very cost centered, incredibly pressurized,” Adam Dickson, who worked for Boeing for 30 years and led a team of engineers that worked on the 737 Max, told BBC Panorama in a program airing Monday night.

“Engineers were given targets to get certain amount of cost out of the airplane,” he added.” Certainly what I saw was a lack of sufficient resources to do the job in its entirety.”

Source: Business Insider

The cost-cutting goal at Boeing led to the company using $9/hour engineers on the planes that sell for millions of dollars and can decide the fate of thousands of passengers. This is a company that enjoys a duopoly of the sky, along with Airbus.

There are certainly a lot more examples of how companies do not volutarily act in the interest of consumers. You will find out more by watching a few episodes of either Patriot Act or Last Week Tonight.

My point is that companies care more about bottom line than consumer interest. Sometimes, those two issues align and be sure that they will advertise the hell out of what they do “for you”. Unless there is a party that can help keep the companies in check, consumers will be at their mercy. There are a few cases in which consumers can threaten the existence of companies such as the #DeleteUber movement a while ago, which suddenly kept Lyft from administration. However, those cases are not common or not common enough.

That’s why we need rules and governments to enforce those rules. It is understandable that red tape and unnecessary regulations are a pain and should be removed (trust me, as an immigrant dealing with all these immigration policies, I already had a bit of American bureaucracy). But that means we need to be smarter in governance , not less governance. By removing all regulations, we help companies reduce compliance costs and be legally less responsible.

As citizens, we don’t have the time and resources to understand all these regulations and conduct studies on how they affect business. The job is left to people who are dedicated to making laws: lawmakers. Hence, whenever somebody mentions that we ought to remove regulations, be sure to ask who and what will protect us citizens from the excessive corporate greed?

Tool: Atom Finance

I recently came across a finance tool that I have been pretty pleased by so far. Credit to Morning Brew newsletter, which introduced the tool. It’s called Atom Finance. It is essentially very similar to Seeking Alpha. As far as I am concerned, Atom Finance can do pretty much what Seeking Alpha does. Below are a few screenshots for your reference

There are three features I particularly like about the tool so far. The first is that in the Financials segment, I can pick and choose variables to show on the interactive bar chart. All I need to do is to click on the variables in the table below the chart.

The other feature I like is the capability to customize peer group, a feature that I believe is currently at an extra cost on Seeking Alpha

The third feature that I appreciate is that I can view earnings call transcripts smoothly from the beginning.

There are usually a few hours between the end of the earnings calls and the transcripts on Seeking Alpha. I haven’t observed how long it takes on Atom Finance, but I will and once I do, I will update this post accordingly.

For now, the tool is free just like Seeking Alpha. It is a handy tool to do research and I personally prefer the User Interace of Atom Finance to that of Seeking Alpha, which I am deeply grateful to for their transcripts. I am by no means affiliated with Atom Finance in any capacity. I am just being reciprocal of their allowing me to use the tool for free.

I hope you will like the tool and if you do, help spread the word to help a young company.