IHT: Death of a global brand?

Forbes reports that the New York Times is planning to fold the IHT.com website into the Times' main website, perhaps the first step in bringing to an end a venerable brand in the community of American expatriates in Europe.

It seems inevitable. The International Herald Tribune, originally the European edition of the New York Herald, once met a great need. For the expat American in Paris, it was like a drink of cool water to a traveler wandering in the desert.

It made content from its longtime partner owners, the Times and the Washington Post, available every morning on racks at news agents and tobacco shops throughout Europe. It wasn't that long ago that traveling singer-songwriter John Prine, seeking the familiar comfort of something truly American, could pick up a copy of the IHT and be inspired to write an ode to Dear Abby.

But the Web has changed all that, bringing every major newspaper in the world into a one-click radius in a highly networked global society.

There has apparently not been a decision to kill the brand in print, but I would not at all be surprised to someday see the International Herald Tribune quietly replaced by the New York Times in those European newsstand racks.

It's a shame, because I think the Times and its previous partner, the Washington Post, failed to capitalize on the brand when there was an opportunity to do so.

The IHT is not just a newspaper. Holding an IHT in your hand as you sip coffee at a Paris sidewalk cafe, in a Prague square, or at a Berlin walk-up früstück bar is a badge of identity, part of being a citizen of the world.

IHT could have leveraged that into an online community for American expatriates, but that would have required recasting IHT's own image of itself beyond the simple concept of "online newspaper." And we know how hard it is to make such a leap.