return Home

Is the New York Times paywall a success? What can it teach other publishers?

Not that life is ever dull at the New York Times, but for the 165 year old ‘Gray Lady,’ this summer has been especially eventful.

Earlier in the season the paper announced a new platform based on native advertising. This was largely a response to the growing use of ad blockers, especially on mobile devices. And the paper could potentially become the first mainstream news organisation not to serve its smartphone readers display ads.

The paper is also starting to to feel the heat from the Washington Post. Its key rival, which is now under the helm of Amazon's Jeff Bezos, has embarked on an aggressive growth strategy which is clearly targeting the New York Times’ demographic. It has also had to deal with The Guardian's ongoing push into north America - 120m readers and counting - as well working out how to build customer loyalty among millennials in the face of the challenge from BuzzFeed and Vice.

If that sounds like a lot on the plate of NYT’s CEO, ex BBC Director General Mark Thompson, he will at least be cheered by the news in August that the paper finally notched up its millionth digital subscriber.

The NYT’s paywall, which was introduced back in 2011, is one of the most celebrated in journalism. Readers get 10 free articles per month and then to read more they need to pay a subscription fee which starts at US$3.75 per week. The metered paywall has also been adopted by other news organisations such as The Daily Telegraph. 

Quality content

There is one overwhelming reason why the NYT has been able to make a success of its paywall, and that is its commitment to quality journalism. In an age where news is commoditised and stories are shared via social media in seconds, the quality and depth of the NYT’s reporting and analysis really are second to none.

Technology has played an important role in the growth of subscriptions too. Many of the NYT’s subscribers are accessing the content via mobile. The Nieman Labs reports that almost a quarter of its iPhone app’s monthly users are subscribers. ‘While 30× more Times unique visitors access the Times through a mobile browser than through its app, it’s the subscribers who disproportionately love the app.’

Thirdly the Times’ status as a global news source has helped grow its subscriber base. As much as 13 per cent of digital subscriber growth arrives from outside the U.S. That means the non-US digital subscriber population is approaching 100,000. Nowhere near as many Americans are buying the print version of the paper, but its worldwide reach is clearly at an all time high.

The dilemma for the NYT now is how to continue to grow that subscriber base. At present the subscriptions generate around $200m a year - enough fund the paper’s newsrooms, but little else. If print revenues continue to drop, and its display advertising falters, then it faces a huge challenge in standing still in terms of generating income, let alone grow.

One option may be the development of niche subscriptions. So readers could pay smaller figures to access sports, culture or even local New York news. The company has experimented with subscription based apps with varying degrees of success. But this is clearly an option going forward.

The paper might have to more aggressively market its paywall. For example it could potentially halve the number of articles readers get for free. It has done this before reducing the figure from 20 to where it is now at 10. Spurred on by the Washington Post (whose subs start at $2.50 per week) the NYT could also bring down the cost of the subscriptions.

Spotify for content?

Ultimately what lessons can magazine publishers learn from the success of the NYT paywall? First it is clear that there is an appetite for readers to pay for high quality content. However many industry pundits believe that consumers will only pay for one or possibly two news/magazine sources online. Which may make a Spotify-esque platform offered by Blendle or planned by Sourcepoint more attractive. 

The other major lesson is that mobile is both an opportunity and a headache for publishers. Many publishers are clearly notching up huge figures on smartphones, but translating those page views into revenues in a world of ad blockers is becoming a challenge.

The NYT has acted quickly and decisively on this with its native strategy. It may be a ploy that other publishers will also find works for them.

The ‘Gray Lady’ has reinvented herself many times in the  past, and it seems very likely that she will transform  again in the not too distant future.

More like this

Five ways Time Inc. is trying to make paywalls work

Why publishers struggle to monetise their paywall data

Harper’s launches metered paywall

Flipboard starts offering its first magazine paywall integration with The New Yorker

  • It’s nearly 2020 and print publishing still matters: How print and digital can build better subscriber experiences

    Rumors of the death of print media have been greatly exaggerated. While online publications have been experiencing tremendous growth in recent years, the fact is that 58 per cent of subscribers still describe themselves as primarily print-oriented, and 60-80 per cent of publisher revenues are still generated from print. It’s true that the majority of print-first subscribers are older, but that doesn’t mean younger audiences won’t pay for print. They will, and they do.

    16th Jan 2019 Opinion
  • 'How we take responsibility' - by Päivi Rissanen, director, sustainability, UPM Communication Papers

    At UPM Communication Papers we have a long history of demonstrating responsibility for the environment. But few people know that our sustainability agenda extends to also include a commitment to taking care of people and society throughout the value chain whilst simultaneously creating value for our customers through delivering products with high sustainability credentials. 

    26th Nov 2018 Opinion
  • Engage your mobile audience: how to create mobile-friendly stories

    Forty-four per cent of the world’s news consumers get their news primarily via the smartphone, Reuters Institute states in its 2018 Digital News Report. But although technology has changed the distribution of news dramatically, the stories are still told in the same way as they were 100 years ago.

    19th Nov 2018 Opinion
  • For leaders who never stop learning

    They say that being a CEO is one of the loneliest jobs in the world. It’s particularly difficult when their organisation is facing, or in the midst of, disruption – a word that’s overused, yes, but also one that fits the bill because it epitomises the intensity of confusion, panic, and distraction that comes with massive technical and social changes.

    19th Oct 2018 Opinion
  • How Italy’s most successful cooking website went multi-platform - all the way to print

    Spinning off a monthly print magazine in 2017 to create an additional revenue stream for Italy’s hugely popular cooking website, Giallo Zafferano, was such a significant success that it sold 2.5 million copies in the first year, says Daniela Cerrato, head of digital product marketing of the Italian magazine division at Mondadori Publishing Group.

    7th Jan 2019 Features
  • Magazine media M&As - what happened in 2018 in review

    In this industry, change is constant. Though, over the last number of years, we've seen increasing numbers of mergers and acquisitions on the media landscape. 2018 was no different, with magazine media marketplaces restructuring, consolidating and diversifying. 

    7th Jan 2019 Features
  • Behind Time magazine covers: a Q&A with DW Pine

    Chronicling the nation’s issues, events and history as it happens, Time magazine shies away from nothing and creates emotional impact in an instant. Time magazine is known for its iconic covers, something D.W. Pine, Time’s creative director, recently called “one of the most iconic pieces of real estate in journalism.”

    14th Jan 2019 Features
  • How Thomas Cook resurrected a print magazine that died in 1939

    One of the greatest successes born from the new Thomas Cook Media and Partnerships division within the Thomas Cook travel agency was the rebirth of the printed magazine, The Excursionist, originally founded in 1851. Speaking at FIPP Insider in London, Ed Marr, group head of commercial publishing, media and partnerships at Thomas Cook Group, explained how an integrated multi-channel media offering within the holiday retail company made this possible.

    14th Jan 2019 Features
  • The Atlantic launches "Unthinkable": 50 Writers. 50 Essays. 50 moments that define the Trump presidency

    As we near the midpoint of the Trump presidency, The Atlantic has cataloged the 50 most norm-bending moments of the administration, analysed by 50 of The Atlantic’s writers and contributors. The digital report, “Unthinkable,” enumerates the incidents that would have been unimaginable under most any previous US president, Republican or Democratic.

    14th Jan 2019 Industry News
Go to Full Site