WAN-IFRA: What position does El Tiempo hold in the Colombian market and Colombian society?
Jon Ruiz: The publishing house, Casa Editorial El Tiempo, owns not only the general-interest newspaper El Tiempo but also a low-priced newspaper, the leading financial newspaper, the leading free newspaper, and magazines. […] We are not the oldest newspaper in the country, despite the fact that we have published for 103 years. El Tiempo is the reference for all business and politics in Colombia for the past 20 years, at least. In terms of market share, we have more than half of the market and compete with another national newspaper and the regional newspapers.
What it has represented in the past in Colombia, a country with so many conflicts in terms of drugs and guerillas and paramilitaries and so on, is defending the institutions – criticizing politicians wherever it is needed but always supporting the institutions and helping the country to solve its problems and to look forward.
WAN-IFRA: What is El Tiempo’s current circulation?
Jon Ruiz: An average of 225,000 Monday through Saturday. We are stronger on Sunday; that is a big day for us, and it can go up to 401,000. […] EGM readership is about 1.1 million on weekdays and almost 1.9 million on Sundays.
Casa Editorial El Tiempo also owns Portafolio, which is the leading financial newspaper and ADN, which is the first free newspaper, launched four years ago in Colombia. We are second [in the market] with low-priced newspapers, which we call popular newspapers […] We have a number of magazines that circulate with El Tiempo, both for street sales and subscribers. And then we have some independent magazines like the Spanish franchise ¡Hola! We have a women’s magazine, a men’s magazine, a baby and children’s magazine as well.
In addition to the print business, which today represents the majority of our business, we have a very large network of portals that gets more than 21 million unique users per month, which positions us as the reference in the Internet business. And these portals are not only informational, but we also have a set of transactional and vertical portals that exploit the digital audience, in order not to be only dependent on advertising.
WAN-IFRA: You mean classifieds portals?
Jon Ruiz: Yes, but they are not all classifieds; we also have some e-commerce portals. We have some classifieds portals, which are a reflection of the print business. But for example on the real estate and employment portals we do not use the typical business model with advertising in exchange for audience, or audience in exchange for advertising, but we have a subscription-based model for both real estate and employment, which is a very healthy model in financial terms.
And then apart from digital and print, today we own a local TV network in Bogotá, which is number three in the city and obviously competes with the two national channels. […] We are pretty diversified, and I look forward to any business opportunity in media that has potential.
WAN-IFRA: What have been your most recent acquisitions or divestitures?
Jon Ruiz: The last move was a franchise, the TV network. That was 10 years ago already. El Tiempo is not too keen on acquiring businesses. First, because our size compared to our competition is so big that there are not too many opportunities in the traditional business, I mean, in the print business and the digital business. We normally have organic growth. […]
From the marketing side, our expertise is to manage audiences. So we do not start developing, let’s say, e-commerce platforms. What we do normally is to look for the right partner in the market and we go for a revenue sharing approach, which dramatically shortens up the time to market and obviously helps a lot in the learning curve, because you get to strike a deal with people who know their business better than you do. So we are not too keen on acquisitions […] But again we are flexible to negotiate deals with people who are experts in fields which we are not, but that are complementary to our business.
WAN-IFRA: So the TV station is a partnership?
Jon Ruiz: No, in that case it’s a franchise that we bought from a Canadian company. The name of the TV operation is Citytv, which is an international franchise, so we have the rights to the brand. Obviously, since it is a franchise, we have to fulfill certain requirements, but we own it 100%.
WAN-IFRA: Are newspapers in Latin America starting to experience some of the problems US newspapers have had – are circulation and advertising revenue starting to go on a downslope?
Jon Ruiz: I would say yes. It’s still not dramatic, as it is in the USA or in other countries. But we are starting to see some signs in that direction, and again, it makes sense. El Tiempo’s web site is free for the time being. Now, Colombia is making an enormous effort to increase Internet penetration among the population, and obviously when you can access more or less the same information – at least the same quality of information – or often the same type of information, such as the opinion pages, the editorials, the columnists and so on and you get it for free […] the pressure to not renew your subscription to the print paper is enormous, and it makes a lot of sense. That’s a rational decision.
So we are lucky in Latin America because we had the chance to see what is going on and how the Internet is evolving and eroding the print business in other countries, so we can prepare ourselves much better in advance, in order not to suffer as much as other media groups in other countries. But yes, today we are starting to see – it’s not something to be worried about for the time being – but we see that every day, selling a subscription becomes more difficult, and you need to push it with gifts or other added value, and every day you see you need to invest a bit more to be able to get the same number of subscribers.
I see your question is hinting at paid content, and that is a strategy we are pursuing, and we think it makes a lot of sense.
WAN-IFRA: So you are looking at such a strategy, but you don’t have any plans to start charging for access to eltiempo.com or any of your other web sites?
Jon Ruiz: Yes, we do have a very exhaustive and very intensive plan. I am not sure if it will be launched at the end of the year or the beginning of next year – there were some technical delays. But we are looking at the metered model that the New York Times launched, which we believe makes sense at the end of the day. […] I don’t know if it will be 20 articles or 25 articles, but with enough articles that most of the people will still visit the site for free, and only heavy users who have shown more in-depth interest in our content will be required to pay. The exception is that if you’re a print subscriber, you get full digital access for free. […]
I think the New York Times got it right – at least got it better than other media groups. I wouldn’t define it as the perfect solution, but I think it’s a very smart solution and makes a lot of sense.
WAN-IFRA: What activities do you have on the mobile front? How do you see those developing, and how do you think you can earn money from them?
Jon Ruiz: That’s a very good question, because mobile has the limitation of the size of the screen, so the advertising model is pretty limited. You should incorporate it, I think, in the overall digital strategy, with a paywall. In that case it works, but it’s more an extension of the web that can give news highlights, but not too much depth. So at the end of the day we are trying to find the best way to use the maximum potential of each of the devices in terms of their screen sizes.
I am pretty reluctant to believe that we will make money from mobile through the advertising model, again because there is not much space to display advertising there, and people are not interested, when they are walking in the street, in seeing banners occupying half of the screen of the cellphone. So what we are looking at is using the mobile phone more as an extension of what we offer on the web, rather than as a business in itself.