New York Times Co. (NYT:US), seeking a chief executive officer who can reverse a six-year sales slump, is looking for a tech-savvy executive to help wring more revenue from the Internet, according to people familiar with the matter.
Paul Sagan, Akamai Technologies Inc. (AKAM:US)’s CEO (GOOG:US); L. Gordon Crovitz, a former Wall Street Journal publisher who founded an online startup; and Mark Thompson, the outgoing director general of the BBC, have been discussed by Chairman Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and the board, people with knowledge of the search said. Sagan and others have dropped out of contention, said the people, who asked not to be named because the matter is private.
Times Co. has said it wants to accelerate a shift to the Internet. The New York-based company has added people with a technology background to its board, naming Massachusetts Institute of Technology research director Joichi Ito and venture capitalist Brian McAndrews as directors yesterday.
Online subscriptions at its flagship newspaper propelled a 73 percent gain in circulation in the six-month period ended in March, while print readership declined. Still, Web advertising and subscriber fees haven’t been enough to offset years of declining sales.
One challenge for the New York Times is persuading a candidate to take a CEO job with limited autonomy. Sulzberger, a scion of the New York Times’ longtime owners, serves as chairman and publisher of the company. His family’s voting power would make it difficult for a new CEO to overrule decisions.
Sulzberger, working with the board and search firm Spencer Stuart, initially put together a list of fewer than a dozen candidates to lead the company, according to the people familiar with the matter.
Executives on the list who have been discussed included aspirational picks such as Google Inc.’s Eric Schmidt and Eileen Naughton, the people said. Schmidt’s digital-media credentials were attractive to Sulzberger, who wants an executive with significant online experience, according to the people.
Schmidt, 57, stepped down as CEO of Mountain View, California-based Google in April 2011, while remaining chairman of the company. Naughton, a top sales executive at the Web- search giant, was president of Time Warner Inc.’s magazine division before joining Google in 2006.
Sulzberger declined to comment on the CEO search, as did Google and Akamai. The Google candidates are unlikely to take the job, one of the people familiar with the situation said.
Thompson, meanwhile, announced plans in March to step down from the British Broadcasting Corp. later this year. The London- based company declined to discuss his plans, beyond issuing an e-mailed statement: “As you might expect, Mark Thompson has had a number of approaches. He has taken no decision.”
A number of candidates have been ruled out, either because they took themselves out of consideration or were scratched from the list, according to the people.
The publisher hired Spencer Stuart earlier this year to manage the search. The company is seeking a successor to Janet Robinson, who was pushed out in December.
Since then, the absence of a permanent leader has raised concern among investors that the company is rudderless, weighing on the stock, said Douglas Arthur, an analyst at Evercore Partners Inc. in New York.
“No one wants to take a position on the company’s stock when no one knows who’s going to run the company,” he said.
Shares of Times Co. have dropped 11 percent since Robinson left at the end of last year. The stock rose less than 1 percent to $6.89 yesterday in New York.
Sagan, 53, who has been with Akamai for almost 14 years, announced he would be leaving the company at the end of next year. The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company helps businesses deliver data quickly over the Internet.
Sagan, a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, began his career in broadcast journalism. He helped to create local cable-news channel NY 1 News in New York City as an executive at Time Warner Inc. Sagan also is a director of ProPublica and is on the advisory board of the Shorenstein Center on the Press.
Crovitz’s resume includes Internet experience as well. He co-founded Press+, a startup that creates online-subscription technology for more than 300 publishing companies, including MediaNews Group, Tribune Co., GateHouse Media Inc., McClatchy Co. and Lee Enterprises Inc.
Crovitz started the company with Steven Brill and Leo Hindery as Journalism Online, which was sold to RR Donnelley & Sons Co. last year for $19.6 million. Press+, based in New York, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The New York Times began charging readers to access its news stories online last year, spurring a wave of growth for its Internet-subscription business. The publisher has attracted more than 454,000 digital subscribers to its New York Times and International Herald Tribune content since last March.
The so-called paywall is estimated to bring in $90 million in revenue this year and $125 million next year, according to Evercore’s Arthur.
Still, the fees are a fraction of the publisher’s total sales. Analysts project that revenue will decline 11 percent to $2.07 billion this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg (NYT:US). Marketers are relying less on print ads, which typically generate more money for newspapers than their online counterparts.
Times Co. also has internal candidates to lead the company, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation. Chief Advertising Officer Denise Warren and Scott Heekin-Canedy, president and general manager for the New York Times Media Group, have been considered, the person said.
The company has been offloading assets, tightening its focus on the New York Times media brand. It sold its stake in Fenway Sports Group, owner of the Boston Red Sox, for a total of $93 million this year and completed the sale of its regional newspaper division for $143 million. The publisher still owns the Boston Globe and Worcester Telegram & Gazette newspapers, as well as the About.com website.
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