The New York Times is growing digital revenue by thinking like a
light and shade in a successful paid content business model. It’s not as simple
as turning on the paywall and
counting the cash – the New York Times’ hybrid model is constantly evolving,
based on science and market evidence. With 640,000 digital subscriptions, it’s
doing something right.
As Paul Smurl, VP of paid
products at NYTimes.com, told the Digital Innovators’ Summit in Berlin on Tuesday, the learning process was
on-going and a whole range of innovations and attitude shifts had increased
revenue for the “grey lady”…
Editorial call to action
NYTimes.com first launched its metered model its pop-up call-to-action banner
advert that forced its way on too everyone’s screen was, ironically, a huge
barrier to new sign-ups.
thought it was an ad and and and wanted to skip it,” says Smurl. “They valued us
and wanted to support us but they wanted us to get out of the way. Editorial voice works
Thinking like a retailer
because you’ve sold subscription in print – I know it’s an obvious point – but
that doesn’t mean you can do it online.”
To get to
640,000 digital subscribers – in addition, 80 percent of print subscribers have
activated an online sub, some 900,000 people – the Times borrowed from the
Financial Times marketing playbook and started targeted registered users
depending on the likelihood they will pay.
took a page from the FT – we have 30 million registered users who we profile
depending on their propensity to pay.”
same time the site improved its billing technology – “boring, but incredibly
effective” – and experimented with Black Friday-style event sales with big
discounts available for a 24 hour window.
Commercial paywall partnerships
method to bring more people into the paywall for free while still making money
is the Most Engaged User Programme. In 2011 the Times started offering free
access worth $150 a year to up to 200,000 highly engaged readers in partnership
with car company Lincoln.
get free content access, Lincoln gets to market to those users and heap
of positive engagement (AdAge
has more on how it works).
More lower-end products
frequent critique of the NYT and other paywalls news orgs is that there’s very
little for the non-premium customer – $150 a year is out of the reach of many
would-be readers. It sounds like the Times is
new paid products especially at the entry level, sub-$10, there’s a huge market
for that,” says Smurl.
same time, he hopes the Times can expand much more overseas, as well as shure up
more device-based subscriptions – just as music player Spotify comes
pre-installed with some smartphones.
Attack of the snail
That’s all good progress and healthy innovation. But it’s also worth
mentioning the winding route the Times took to get
admits the organisation took years making its mind up
on whether to go paid online. The conclusion was “there is no reason to look for
marginal growth when you are not selling out all your (ad)
before some epic market research involving 150 different product bundles and
iterations, which were put before a parade of user test