By: Tony Case Stops publishing biweekly paper, citing weak advertiser support; partner is stunned sp.
TWO YEARS AFTER it launched the venture with much fanfare, the New York Times quietly has folded its biweekly Russian-language edition, citing weak support from advertisers. News in Review, the Times' first attempt at publishing in a foreign language, accomplished its editorial mission but was not a financial success, spokesman William Adler said. "We went into the project with the goal of trying to demonstrate that it would be possible to bring portions of the New York Times into the Russian language, with the somewhat idealistic view of providing information needed during the beginning of a move to a free press, and we feel good about that," he related. "But the newspaper unfortunately was never viable from a business standpoint." The move stunned officials at the weekly Moscow News, the Times' partner in the enterprise. "The decision of Mr. Sulzberger in freezing the edition was surprising for us and unexpected because we have made many efforts, and I would say rather successful efforts, to increase subscription sales of the paper in 1994," News commercial director Evgueni Abov said, referring to Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. "This was the only serious newspaper publication belonging to a foreign publisher. I know that the Russian readers were very much disappointed by the disappearance of this publication." When News in Review stopped publishing in January, paid subscriptions numbered 31,000, compared with 12,500 last fall ? "the most dynamic increase in subscriptions for any new publication in the Russian market," Abov maintained. Adler said total subscription and newsstand sales started at 100,000 and peaked at 120,000. Abov boasted that the paper also succeeded in grabbing the attention of advertising agencies and in finding a niche readership in the "cream of Russian society." He blamed what he characterized as marketing and advertising mistakes by the Times for the failure. "To my mind, it was not wise to arrange advertising sales efforts in New York," he said. "It should have been done within the Moscow market, which is overwhelmed with advertising now. Many companies are using Rus- sian publications as advertising vehicles." Some advertising was generated in Russia, but big companies here were expected to provide the bulk of ad revenue. Coca-Cola, American Express and Estee Lauder were among those that signed on as charter advertisers when News in Review was started in April 1992. Companies paid $130,000 to advertise in 12 issues ? "a lot of money for something that was not necessarily core to the targets they were looking for," Adler noted. "There was some nice, good-faith support at the beginning, but apparently, the dollars were not there in the long run." The Times also experienced circulation problems unique to Russia. Distribution systems were disrupted after the breakup of the Soviet Union. Also, Russian publishers, unlike their U.S. counterparts, have little control over setting cover prices and must give copies to retailers at ridiculously low cost, making them all the more dependent on advertising for revenue. Russia also has had outrageous newsprint, printing and distribution cost increases. No layoffs resulted from the closure. Adler said managers and staffers involved with News in Review were assigned to other posts. Citing company policy, he would not disclose how much money the Times invested in or lost on the edition. He said only that "it was not a large financial loss." At the time of its launch, Sulzberger said News in Review was not a high-margin venture. He expected that the paper would break even after six months and "move forward from there, undoubtedly having proven its value and worth." News editor in chief Len Karpinsky predicted that the edition would "leave its mark not only in the history of journalism but also in the annals of Rus-sian-American relations." Today, the News is left with useless promotional materials and market research pertaining to the edition and has had to refund money to subscribers, Abov reported. He estimated the Moscow paper's loss in the venture at $25,000. News in Review ceased publication about the same time that Hearst Corp. terminated its Russian newspaper experiment, We/Mbl, a collaboration with the company that publishes the Moscow paper Izvestia (E&P, March 19, p. 22). Hearst cited as reasons for the failure high production costs and possible government infringement of a free press. The Times and Hearst both contended that farewell may not be forever. "I hesitate to use the word 'folded,' " Adler said, offering instead that the edition was "suspended." He indicated that the Times might re-enter the Russian market in some form. Regardless, Abov remains optimistic about future Russian-American partnerships. "I think now there is a good marketplace for other publications because readership and the advertising market have already been created," he said. "The demand for information in this country is so great. I'm sure that if a publication such as the Wall Street Journal will try, they will be successful."