Rethinking the bundle – The Economist (blog)
A FEW years ago the prospect of convincing readers to pay for news online seemed as faint as ink on a damp newspaper. But the New York Times has managed to prove many naysayers wrong. In 2011 it introduced a pay “meter” that limited the articles that casual readers could access, and successfully convinced more people to pay for content. Today it has around 760,000 digital subscribers, although growth has slowed in recent quarters.
On April 2nd two new subscription offerings will come to market. The more interesting is NYT Now, a mobile app that carries a cheaper price tag ($8 a month, only on the iPhone for now) and offers readers a more limited selection of articles, all hand-chosen by editors.
Jill Abramson, who runs the Times’s editorial operations, has compared the New York Times newspaper to a “full meal”. By contrast, NYT Now is more like fast food, appetising to those hungering for curated news on their mobiles. Users of NYT Now will access news analysis and articles from the New York Times, but editors will also link to their favourite articles from other publications. Some have compared NYT Now to a “Twitter feed”. Timesmen hope that it will go some way to reducing customers’ reliance on other sites and social networks for news.
The risk is that the new offer could cannibalise the Times’s existing business by offering subscribers a cheaper product that is just good enough to satiate their hunger for news. But the experiment is worth watching. Mark Thompson, the former boss of the BBC who now runs the Times, wants to bring new subscribers into the fold, particularly younger ones. And the way people are accessing news has changed dramatically, which requires rethinking how subscriptions should be structured and sold. Today around half of people access the New York Times’ website from their mobile phones.
With NYT Now the Times is trying to keep readers in its embrace, rather than have them wander in and out through social networks or search. A recent study by Pew Research Centre, a think-tank, found that people who accessed a news site via Facebook spent about a third less time there than those who had arrived at the news site directly. Newspapers also have to compete with new products launched by tech firms. Facebook’s free news reader, Paper, curates news stories from professional news groups but keeps them within its app.
The other subscription offering that debuts on April 2nd—called Times Premier—is likely to be a tougher sell. It offers access to online-video talks and New York Times books along with the newspaper, but it is less clear who will want to pay more for supplemental content when the paper already provides so much. That said, the Financial Times has done well with its premium edition, although many readers presumably expense it.
No newspaper thinks it will be saved by readers alone. Although the New York Times is getting a greater share of its revenue from readers than five years ago, advertising remains a critical part of its business. On April 2nd it will also launch Paid Posts, a “native advertising” product for mobile devices. Native ads often look like articles, but are paid for by advertisers, and will be the only advertising available on NYT Now. A sign of the Times—in every respect.