The legendary publisher and media giant have seen it all – Men walking on Moon, Cap. E. J. Smith sinking with Titanic, the Civil Rights Movement, and more. Though the publisher began its run with a newspaper, it won over the digital-only publications by a landslide. The publisher’s traditional roots succored the digital spin-off and now, NYTimes.com is the most valuable part of the whole company.
Apparently, it’s hard to even imagine The New York Times without its online presence. Here’s what we found compelling while working on the piece – NYTimes.com will push you to take calculated risks – on both editorial and monetization fronts.
Without any further ado, let’s dive into the story of The New York Times.
Discretion: We’ll cite the parent company of the NYTimes.com while disclosing the revenue data sometimes. And, we have to extrapolate occasionally to complete the article and derive inferences. We tend to cite all the data with their respective sources unless the original source isn’t found online.
How it all started?
“The market is booming for newspapers on the World Wide Web”
– John F. Kelsey III, co-founder, The Kelsey Group, Inc.
The official NYTimes.com made it online on Jan 22, 1996. If you’re new here, we’ve already talked about the state of online newspapers back in the day here and here. Long story short, online newspapers were struggling to justify the investments they’ve made on websites. The Financial Times, for instance, employed “Net Team” to keep itself alive on the Internet.
Because of the fall of newspapers online, Don Logan, President of Time, Inc., called Internet as “The Great Black Hole”. We could go on and on. But you get the picture.
Still, The New York Times decided to see what it takes. The rest, as they say, is history.
How many visitors the NYTimes.com have had?
NYTimes.com had around 250,000 users per day (Src), just after two years of its online foray. That’s 3x more than the Guardian. Apparently, it’s a huge feat. According to another source, NYTimes had more than one million registered users in 1998 (Src).
It seems undoable, but the publisher’s conscientious move rationalize the numbers. Yeah, most tend to oversee how The New York Times tested itself by opting to be a part of America Online. The newspaper giant launched @times in 1996, to 4 million subscribers of America Online.
Without a surprise, it worked. We believe AOL was a perfect ground for NYTimes to warm up and get ready to venture out.
Where they are today?
The market cap of The New York Times* is $4.90 billion at the time of writing the post.
*Here we refer to the parent company The New York Times, which holds several other media assets excluding NYTimes.com.
If you think that’s broad, the Times disclosed that the digital advertising rose 8.6 percent, to $259 million last year. The total readers hit an all-time high of 136 million. Most importantly, the publisher managed to convince 3.6 million people to pay for its digital content (Src). When the media industry struggled to cut down losses and sustain their digital revenue, the Times added 265,000 subscribers in the last quarter. That being said, NYTimes.com faced its own problems and dealt with joint venture losses.
What’s more impressive?
The Times won an astonishing 60 Pulitzer Prizes, nearly doubling the paper’s Pulitzer count. Increasing subscribers and Pulitzer prices mutually help each other. They’re deliberately tied to each other, not serendipitously.
Becoming The New York Times
Ciao, Grey Lady
1996 – 2000
We’ve just shown you how The New York Times went from thousands to millions. Obviously, there need to be a lot of strategies, decisions, ups, and downs. Let’s start where the Times started.
Start Small, Go Big
As we mentioned earlier, NYTimes.com has been taking calculated risks right from the start. The first example is how the publisher released a beta version after its short-presence on America Online.
Yeah, NYTimes.com beta was released on the Internet, half-a-year before the actual launch. It gave the headroom for the print publisher to try-out the Internet. To be frank, the Times doesn’t have to be so cautious. Considering it’s legacy and print readership at the time (it was the country’s biggest-circulation all-week paper with a weekday circulation of 1,071,120), it could’ve directly jumped into the online newspaper industry.
But, the Times decided to keep it slow and steady, at the start. The same ideology continues to help the publisher succeed in most of its bets.
While all the other legacy newspapers stayed without any paywalls and restrictions, the Times pulled it off with walls.
No one can access the website for free. Either the publisher asked the first-time users to register and browse certain parts of the website for free or register and pay to have unlimited access to NYTimes.com content.
The Times collected data including country, zip code, household income, industry, job title, and The New York Times newspaper usage. In the beginning, newspapers typically invested in the online expedition with the goal of reaching people worldwide.
National newspapers couldn’t go international, besides the number of readers gets saturated in some time. They considered online as a new way to get the reach. In simple, they practiced reaching first, monetization next approach.
On the other hand, the Times thought of its online website as a different version of the newspaper. Also, it doesn’t want readers to bounce off as there are other news sites competing to get as much attention as possible.
So, it took a balanced data-driven approach. Get the data of the users and then, personalize the content and pitch to move them to the paying-readers cohort.
Did it work?
See for yourself.
You might be thinking, how we’re attributing the revenue increase to NYTimes.com. Well, we aren’t. There are studies to back up our statement. Top websites (like NYTimes.com) were making impressive revenue in the late 1990s (Src).
|Cohort of Websites||Value per
|Combined Annual Revenues
for sites in this cohort
|Top 10,000 sites||1 cent||$19 billion|
|Next million sites||3 cents||$27 billion|
|Next ten million sites
(numbered 2-11 million from the top)
|10 cents||$234 billion|
|Next ten million sites
(numbered 12-21 million from the top)
|Last 79 million sites||0||0|
Sidenote: However, we would like to note that the revenue increase can’t be because of NYTimes.com alone. The New York Times had other online media properties, which probably ended up adding a small percentage of advertising revenue.
Now, it’s time to reach
Today, what media publishers do to get readers?
They’ll go to social networks and paid content syndication services. But when you run a website in the 1990s, there aren’t any social networks or paid traffic services to get the readers. Even the search engines weren’t that popular*.
*In 1998, when Google launched it was serving 10,000 queries each day. Now, it’s over 3.5 billion per day.
The Times learned to spread its presence by capitalizing on then used online platforms.
The publisher wants to be everywhere – handheld devices and desktops. So, it partnered with AvantGo software, one of the earliest browsers to sync headlines to the readers’ handheld devices.
It ran daily emails to the subscribers. Subscribers can select specific sections of the Times and get them delivered to their email addresses.
Some news isn’t topical or ephemeral. They’re evergreen. Besides, people were more nostalgic and the Times developed (and it still maintains it) archive to let readers travel back in time. Why would a publisher invest heavily to maintain and host thousands of newspapers online?
There’s a catch. You had to pay $2.50 per article. Only summaries were free.
The New York Times Explorer Bar
“Stay current throughout the day with The New York Times Explorer Bar. You can enjoy the day’s top stories, breaking news updates every ten minutes, market information and access to stock quotes.”
– From the archives of NYTimes.com
iPing’s Mr. Wakeup
Most wouldn’t aware of iPing. It was a website where you could schedule a wakeup call, so the name Mr. Wakeup. NYTimes found a way to reach readers every morning when they wake up – The publisher read the headlines on Mr. Wakeup.
And, the Times never forgot its desired readers.
The company created an advertising campaign “Mind Over Chatter” to insist that NYTimes.com is a destination for users who seek intelligent news.
And, by the end of 2000, this happened.
NYTimes.com is the No.1 newspaper site – as measured by Media Metrix – and the only Top Four news and information site with a 100% registered user base
– 2000 Annual Report from The New York Times.
Fight Against Ad Recession
2001 – 2003
One thing the Times decided to pursue, no matter what is to unify its brick-and-click business – in terms of culture, sales, content, and promotion. Both its print and online news site should use the same voice, style, and approach.
The idea behind the ‘same voice – different channel’ approach might be due to
– The success of print. As the print ran and won millions of readers, the publisher may choose not to shift what they do and how they do it.
– They loved the anecdotes and the way they work.
Whatever the case is, it differentiated the publisher for the next two decades. And, that plays a crucial role in this news-rich era.
NYTimes.com, which to be fair, retained its print design on the Internet decided to overhaul its layout. At the time, many argued that it was quite unnecessary – 2001 recession has just started. But the Times did it anyway and it helped the ad revenue to sustain.
The Times made a few interesting moves to stay away from the plummeting ad market – like approaching rich media ads, strategically pushing towards the CPC advertising model, etc. We’ll discuss them in detail. But before, we need to understand the state of the market in 2001.
A Rough Weather
2001 – 2002
We all know Y2K. Approximately $500 bn was poured (worldwide) to solve the bug and high tech stocks went through the roof due to the surprising sales figures. But when the clock rolled over 2000, the sales of the tech companies were declining rapidly. The dot-com bust made the market volatile and pushed us towards a recession.
The recession affected the nascent online ad market significantly. Researchers at I/PRO disclosed that 39% of the surveyed US advertisers (145 in total) said e-advertising to be ‘moderately’ effective, 30% think it is ‘somewhat’ effective and just 21% of the total respondents endorsed the medium as ‘very’ effective.
The researchers pointed out a few reasons for the middling results.
– Recession. No one wanted to risk their shoestring marketing budgets on online right after the recession.
– Lack of reliable performance measures. This is perhaps the most dominant reason as per the study. As the medium was quite new, IAB and other consortium were just figuring it out.
– Traditional measurement metrics. Apparently, print metrics aren’t suitable for online advertising which pulled back the advertisers from experimenting with Internet ads.
– ‘Newness’ of the medium further increased the reluctance and more studies stated that the online ads are not yet ready to support business goals.
Now, let’s see how the Times got out of the ad recession.
Rich Media Ads
Rich media ads were just popping out into the online advertising world and the Times became one of the first to embrace it. How did they make the decision?
Well, we can’t surely say that they made the decision in the way we’re about to state. However, we’re positive that they analyzed the market conditions.
Cue 1 – AOL, one of the supporting partners of the NYT has faced severe criticism for failing to meet its lofty ad revenue projections. It announced that the revenue will continue to fall during 2002 (even when the recession has ended). The company then went on to reveal that the latest versions of instant messaging, email applications, and most importantly, AOL software will support and serve rich media ads.
Cue 2 – DoubleClick revealed that the marketers are increasingly trying the rich media ad formats.
It was conspicuous for the publisher to get into the raising format.
The downturn economy conditions worsened the state of news sites to the extent they’ve compelled to partner with rivals. As marketers didn’t believe any one of the publishers could deliver the business goals, publishers began to unify their ad inventories.
NY Times shook hands with CNET, MarketWatch.com, Weather.com, and USA Today to form a strong reach and compelling audience that’s too good to pass.
When the recession has ended, eMarketer predicted that the online ad space is back on track of growth. The study by eMarketer considered several factors including net use, broadband uptake, online media’s growing share in the total ad spend. IAB similarly boasted that the online medium is poised to grow.
Especially, pay-per-click search listings were spreading like a wildfire. A service started by GoTo.com inspired almost all the search engines to run the pay-per-click listing model. The Times capitalized on the situation by boosting its CPM business model.
As we mentioned earlier, the redesign was a calculated risk. The redesign allowed the publisher to strategically place ads and increase CTR.
Surround sessions is the model developed by the Times to help advertisers rid of the reluctance they had on the then-existing models. Despite pushing rich media formats, NYTimes.com allowed advertisers to choose surround sessions – where an advertiser has to pay for a session of a user; not for impressions; not for clicks.
For instance, if you have 4 page views, advertisers are allowed to take over all the placements of the page views, thus enabling them to convey a story over and over to the same user. The probability of ad recall and click is higher than the other models.
The New York Times, as a pioneer in the online news industry, learned what needs to be done. And, eventually, they convinced advertisers to run ads on NYTD (New York Times Digital).
NYTD revenues in 2002 were $71.8 million, up 19.0% from $60.3 million in 2001. Revenues were higher due to an increase in advertising, particularly in the retail, travel, technology and finance categories. In addition, both help-wanted and real estate classified advertising increased in 2002.
– New York Times Annual Report 2002.
Sidenote: The Times (digital) didn’t increase its revenues from 2000 to 2001. Instead, the revenue declined almost $6 million due to the dot-com bust.
Crossword V 2.0
The New York Times has evangelized the crosswords and the puzzles have always been a part of NYTimes.com. The publisher had around 40,000 subscribers for crosswords and they revamped the section and retained the price of $34.95 for a year, or $5.95 a month.
Again, the investment is not to increase its price, but to increase its subscriber base. The prioritization of user experience over the immediate monetization has implicitly become one of the credos of the publisher.
Some argue that Internet slow poisoned print journalism. But to the Times, both are essentially the same, just delivered in a different medium. And, they didn’t prioritize one over another. So, the approach to handle both wings is mutualistic.
At the beginning of the NYTimes.com, print supported the investments required to redesign and experiment. At the later stage, it’s vice versa.
The reach of the Web sites is instrumental in creating a substantial stream of newspaper subscription orders each year. In 2002, over 85,000 subscription orders for The Times or the Globe originated from these two [NYTimes.com and Boston.com] Web sites.
– The New York Times.
Paywalls Vs Ads
The year was 2004, online advertising was gaining traction, on one hand, micropayments began to present themselves as the next best alternative for publishers, on the other.
Though they aren’t the apple-to-apple comparison, publishers wanted to give it a run. Even some of the well-known online properties adopted and failed to sustain the paywalls. While the situation remains more or less the same, analysts argued the feasibility of micropayments without taking online advertising into the context.
For instance, Clay Shirky, New York University adjunct professor argued that micropayments aren’t a viable option for publishers as the friction in the system is the same as the friction in a subscription model. He said no matter how micro the amount is, the reader will have the same level of hesitation to pay for online websites.
“This strategy doesn’t work, because the act of buying anything, even if the price is very small, creates what Nick Szabo calls “mental transaction costs,” the energy required to decide whether something is worth buying or not, regardless of price. The only business model that delivers money from sender to receiver with no mental transaction costs is theft, and in many ways, theft is the unspoken inspiration for micropayment systems.”
Vin Crosbie, an adjunct faculty of Newhouse School raised a counter-argument that the micropayments will work in the future, if not immediately. You might be wondering why are we going through the micropayments all of a sudden.
There’s a reason. We’ll get there in a minute.
Next Generation Reach
We don’t want you to go through all the Gen Z stats. You know it’s wise to attract the audience of tomorrow today. The Times knows it well.
They considered younger readers as “critically important” and invested in various initiatives to attract the younger audience.
According to a semi-annual study of national newspaper readership by the Student Monitor, The New York Times reaches nearly one in four U.S. college students during a typical week – a much larger percentage than any other American newspaper. It also found that NYTimes.com reaches one in eight college students in a typical week.
– The New York Times Annual Report.
The Big Pivot
We mentioned The New York Times charged international users a monthly subscription fee. It abandoned the model in 1998 because online readers eventually found another site to read what they want. The smaller audience base means limited advertising opportunities.
Besides, the Times concluded that the short-term goal of the NYTimes.com is to increase the national print subscribers.
Our short-term goal of The New York Times on the web is still “national”
– Jason Krebs, Managing Director at The New York Times.
Now, after almost a decade, NYTimes.com again introduced a paywall to access some Op-Ed columnists of Business, Metro and Sports. Print subscribers can access the content online without any additional cost. Non-subscribers are shown a wall that says pay a $49.95 annual fee. The plan named “TimesSelect” also allowed access to up to 100 articles from the archives.
This is just a year from the debate that online news sites shouldn’t charge readers took place. To be frank, the industry was failing at the attempt. The LA Times ended its paywall endeavor the same year the Times started TimeSelect.
Then, why the Times went for it?
– Circulation revenues were declining (in-fraction) every year: $873,975 in 2005, $883,995 in 2004, and $885,767 in 2003.
– NYTimes.com reached a worldwide audience averaging 17 million unique users per month. Even with an average conversion rate, the publisher could earn millions in revenue.
– The revenue of NYTimes.com increased by 30%, mainly due to display advertising. It may not sound like a reason to put up a paywall, but the Times predicted that the readers who’re worth advertising (affluence) should be willing to pay for the ad-free experience.
Besides, Nielsen/NetRatings boasted that the online news sites are thriving up 11% YOY and Audit Bureau of Circulations revealed that the nation’s largest 20 newspapers are faced with decreasing circulation problems.
Did it work?
In the long-term, it didn’t. But The New York Times was able to gain a few hundred thousand subscribers.
The project had met expectations, drawing 227,000 paying subscribers — out of 787,000 overall — and generating about $10 million a year in revenue.
– The New York Times (Src).
The Times said that they didn’t anticipate the explosion of traffic from search engines like Google and Yahoo and the growth of subscribers base was slower than the growth of online advertising base. So, the paywall approach again ended in just two years after launch.
Acquisition of About.com
Though it isn’t strictly related to NYTimes.com (the parent company said About.com is a “separate reportable segment”), we would like to highlight a few things.
– 10th largest presence on the Internet. Adding About, Inc. under its portfolio, helped the company to become the tenth largest on the web. The combined page views hit more than a billion.
– About’s search engine optimization expertise helped the web sites to increase their traffic markedly.
– Finally, the company got into the “cost per click” advertising model as About.com already offers it for the advertisers.
– The Times marketed its digital products on About.com to reach new users.
A New Look
NYTimes.com got its major revamp in 2006 and Leonard M. Apcar, Editor in Chief of NYTimes.com said that it is to improve the experience of the readers. Improving navigations, introducing topic pages, adding most emailed article section, adjusting the view for the larger screen readers, etc. were some of the noticeable changes.
But also, the publisher added more inventory for advertisers.
In 2006, we will build out various sections of NYTimes.com, providing our readers with more content and more features and our advertisers with additional inventory space to promote their brands and products.
– The New York Times Annual Report 2006
During the 2008 financial crisis, online advertising was the last to take a hit. TechCrunch reporter Erick Schonfeld published an article titled “The Online Ad Recession Is Officially Here: First Quarterly Decline In Revenues”. He studied the revenues of online advertising behemoths including Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL.
Here’s the graph (Src).
Online Journalism Revenue said advertisers are favoring electronic medium (Src). On all, the market doesn’t look promising.
How did the Times do?
We’re glad you asked. Predictably, circulations were down but the revenues from the print are not. It increased by 3% because of “the higher subscription and newsstand prices at The Times and the Globe”.
Total revenue went down to $2.4 billion from $2.9 billion in 2008. The Times said the advertising revenue fell by 25%. Like the Guardian, the loss was offset in part by higher online revenues.
Well, if you’re a typical publisher, you would feel tired of trying out things that didn’t work. Yet the Times again announced that the site will put up a paywall again.
“We can’t get this halfway right or three-quarters of the way right. We have to get this really, really right.”
– Arthur Sulzberger Jr, Publisher, The New York Times (Src).
Unlike the last time, the publisher knows how to run a successful subscription model now. The Times has tried and dropped payment models twice. It has seen the ups and downs from the readers, networks, and investors.
When it comes to advertising and paywall. it didn’t consider one for another. “We’re trying to maximize revenue. We’re not saying we want to put this revenue stream above that revenue stream. The goal is to maximize both revenue streams in combination.”
Analysts from research companies including Forrester Research and Fitch Ratings praised the move while others like Reuters criticized it.
Most importantly, NYTimes.com isn’t paywalled completely for every new reader. The strategy was clear and had enough headroom to prevent traffic from declining.
– 20 free articles per month.
– Top News section on the apps remained free.
– Readers from search engines, blogs, social networks, etc. could access the content (landing page) for free even when they’ve exhausted 20 articles of the month.
It changed the face of The New York Times.
The Immediate Results
Hitwise, a marketing insights provider measured the page views and visits on nytimes.com before and after the introduction of paywall*.
*The data is just 3 to 4 months after the introduction of the paywall.
As expected, page views dropped between 11% and 30%, unique visitors declined up to 10% and the overall traffic declined by 5% to 15%.
Finally, The Times proved that there is a life behind the wall.
Digital subscribers went from zero to 224,000 in three months; 57,000 iPad and Kindle users joined; 750,000 print subscribers registered for online access. On all, over a million people subscribed to the digital version of The New York Times.
Though, many argued that the subscribers’ growth will decay over the months. However, the Times sustained its growth rate over the years (not just the months). The Guardian who pioneered the value-add model criticized the move by The Times at first and later admitted that the paywall, indeed worked well for the publisher (Src). It went on to say that other news publishers like Politico are considering the paywall as a viable alternative to traditional advertising now. Thanks to the ones who pioneered it (NYTimes.com, FT.com, WaPo, etc.).
Now, you’re probably wondering why the company experienced the slump during the 2012 to 2015 period.
It’s because of the trend. The trend that persisted starting from 2012 to Q1 2017. We didn’t intend to oversimplify, but here’s what happened.
– Print circulations slowly went up. Most of the quarters posted single-digit growth.
– Advertising (both print and digital) went down, for most of the quarters. There are a few exceptions for digital advertising revenue.
– Digital subscribers were growing pretty fast (around 45%) till 2013 and then the growth slowed down.
While it is easy to point the publisher for all the troughs in the earning graphs, we shouldn’t overlook the state of the industry.
Everyone, including you and me, are shifting to digital content consumption. And, advertisers found it convenient and relatively cheap to run ad campaigns on the Internet for most of their marketing goals. That’s why even though the circulations went up, the print advertising couldn’t go upwards.
There’s a threshold for everything. You can’t expect your in-house team to close direct sales from advertising for all your digital impressions (growing in millions every month). This pushes us to remnant inventory selling system ran by exchanges. The CPMs will obviously be lower than the direct campaigns.
Unlike today, ad exchanges and the real-time bidding system were limited by their capabilities.
Crossing The Chasm
2012 – 2014
Programmatic, Video, and Custom Advertising
The Times realized that they have a successful paywall strategy in place (they capitalized on holidays, US elections, unbiased journalism, Op-Eds, and everything you could think of), it’s time for them to grow their digital advertising wing.
They wanted to maintain a healthy revenue mix. In an interview with eMarketer’s Ellen Oppenheim, Mark Thompson, Chief Executive of The New York Times said that he’s “hoping to have very healthy advertising revenues”.
He also revealed that the NYTimes.com will focus on video, custom and native advertising. Surprisingly, he said that he will invest in programmatic to sell ad inventory. The publisher has stayed away from the programmatic channel previously and it changed completely hereafter.
“We believe that if used in the right way, programmatic can be not just an addition, but really an effective way of selling significant parts of our ad inventory,” said Mark Thompson.
On contrary to the usual mindset where a publisher adopts a new ad format for CPMs, NYTimes.com embraced the format for both the users and the CPMs. It had a pile of insights to study their user behavior and eventually concluded that video consumption will continue to increase.
So, demand will keep increasing, thus preventing the CPMs from moderation (as happened with the banner ads). The Times said that their video supply is lesser than the available demand. This, in turn, increases the prices for the impressions, rather than decreasing it.
One of the publisher’s beloved formats of advertising is ‘paid post’. The publisher came up with a way to run advertorials – Paid posts. The format performed exceptionally well, letting the company build a studio (T Studio) to meet the demand.
The crucial factor is the ability of the publisher to understand both the audience and the advertisers. They simply built a bridge every time.
We can say that the Times considers mobile as the next big phase (change) in its history. First being the print, second is the web, and now it’s mobile. The publisher has invested continuously in developing mobile-friendly experiences and reaching mobile users.
It revamped its mobile site by making it look like an app and removing the clutters. The New York Times said that the redesign isn’t about mobile alone, it’s about presenting its journalism in the least “adulterated” way possible.
NYT Now is yet another example of NYTimes involves its readers in every decision. In case you don’t know, NYT Now is a mobile app that summarizes the news from the nytimes.com for the readers. As mobile users typically won’t spend a long time diving deep into the news, NYTimes wanted to reach them and NYT Now is the way.
Though the app charged $8 a month at the time of release, NYT Now 2.0 revamped its design and went live for free.
In fact, mobile doesn’t mean a device. It means how the publisher is reaching the users on the go. It partnered with Google Glass to read the news to the readers directly.
It launched an AR app ‘T Studio AR’ and worked with IBM to launch the first AR project “Outthink Hidden” (Src).
Did the ‘go mobile’ strategy work?
By the end of 2014, paid subscribers reached 910,000.
Becoming The Titan
2015 – Present
You know it’s hard to keep the readers on-site, let alone convert them to paying subscribers. The Times knows how to keep the visitors on its property for 5 minutes – Visual journalism.
The articles and news content were supplemented by multimedia elements – video, infographics, charts, and graphs, etc. The publisher moved to a new CMS, Oak to help editors embed and modify media elements easily.
The newsroom employed more than 25 people for visual journalism. The idea is to provide content that helps users, which, in turn, pushes them to subscribe.
“If we get people spending more time with us and reading more stories across our properties, it is good for our subscription business”
– Cynthia Collins, the Times’ social media editor
The publisher tends to experiment a lot. One of the most recent is the pop-up newsletters. Unlike regular ones, these email newsletters are topical and short-lived. For instance, “Game of Thrones” by The Times had around 80,000 subscribers and 60 percent open rate.
The Times garnered over 13 million subscribers from its 55 different newsletters (Src).
Why the publishers like pop-up newsletters?
– They help to reach specific audiences. For instance, a newsletter “Summer in the City” targeted young readers in the US during summer.
– Building a new non-committal relationship. Readers seem to like short-lived newsletters as they don’t need to worry about lifelong promotions.
– You can monetize newsletters too.
The New York Times has a lofty goal of getting 10 million total subscribers and realizing the goal isn’t possible without focusing on the retention (Src).
The publisher has employed a team of 25, just to study the reader engagements and improve retention. What started as a small improvement has become an essential part of reaching revenue goals.
“We want more and more people to feel like they’ve entered a whole new world once they’ve become a subscriber”
– Clay Fisher, SVP of consumer revenue
In fact, the Times said they think of it as a consumer business. As they’ve already accrued 3 million paying subscribers and it’s time for the revenue team to hold them back home. Once a new user subscribes to The Times, a team of 10 will follow the entire journey, send new emails and updates. Besides, the site will have features that only new-subscribers could see – including ribbon along with the top posts and sections, early access to Times events, and more.
The team re-engages readers who’re are visiting the site less often by offering them playbooks and special content.
NYTimes.com has been programmatically transacting media impressions (direct, PMPs, and open exchanges) for a while. But it didn’t jump out completely and exposed all its inventories. The Times began running its Flex Frame (custom ad unit by the Times) through DoubleClick’s programmatic direct feature.
“We are thinking about programmatic as a means of transaction, not necessarily as a way to differentiate the inventory”
– Rachael Savage, VP of ad ops and platform strategy (Src).
The success of the step led the publisher to go full-on programmatic.
Almost half of the programmatic revenue is from open exchanges, according to Sara Badler, director of programmatic advertising at the Times. But the publisher is increasingly pushing towards direct deals (we know why). Because of the GDPR, it even dropped open exchanges completely on Europe as per the source.
Though the major chunk of revenues is from subscriptions, NYTimes don’t want to dry up the advertising yet.
This seems obvious. Isn’t it? If you are making millions of people pay to read your content, you need to stand out and innovate every day to convince existing readers to stay and new readers to subscribe.
The Times understands the readers very well. It is now far from the U.S. national and political news site. The publisher offers much more today.
– “The Daily”, an audio news report introduced in 2017, became the most downloaded new podcast on Apple for the year.
– 360-degree videos are produced every day by 200 journalists from 57 countries.
– Cooking, a section devoted to recipes attracted 120,000 subscriptions in just one and a half years.
Conclusion – Digital-first Publisher
By the end of 2018, The Times had 2.9 million digital-only subscribers, out of 3.8 million total. It already started to pivot itself from print to digital completely. In fact, A.G. Sulzberger publisher of the New York Times said, “The time will come when this [The New York Times] is a digital-only news organization.”
For instance, they partnered with Google to digitize millions of old photographs on the”morgue” (Src). The company knows that it has to invest in both digital and content to thrive for a long time. When you’re planning to build an invincible web property on the Internet, you have to take bolder and wiser steps as the Times did.
What you just read won’t be useful unless you put in the work. Start by understanding the readers. Collect and build first-party data, run surveys, and have a clear view of your readers. Then, make them pay or run personalized ads to monetize. Neither paywalls nor ads will help you if you don’t know who you are.